GUION PARTNERS’ Founder Lindsay Guion Looks at the Key Differences Between American Football and Rugby

If you are an avid fan of watching high-performance athletes put their bodies — and sometimes their careers — on the line to get an extra inch of territory, which is often the difference between victory or defeat, then you should be an ardent fan of both American football and rugby.

However, despite the similarities between the two sports, there are still several key differences. Lindsay Guion, Founder of GUION PARTNERS provides a brief overview of American football and rugby.


In American football, there are five ways to score: getting the ball into the other team’s end zone a.k.a. scoring a touchdown (6 points), kicking an extra point through an upright after scoring a touchdown (1 point), getting the ball into the other team’s end zone after a touchdown (2 points), kicking the ball from anywhere on the field through an upright, but without first scoring a touchdown (3 points), and trapping the opposing team in their own end zone, which is called a safety (2 points).

In rugby, there are four ways to score: grounding the ball over the other team’s goal line, which is referred to as a try (5 points), kicking the ball between an upright after scoring a try (2 points), kicking the ball through an upright after being awarded a penalty due to a rule infraction by the other team (3 points), kicking the ball through an upright after first bouncing it on the ground and kicking it on the half-volley (3 points).

Adds Lindsay Guion, who has also worked Grammy® award-winning artists, songwriters and producers: What fans of both sports quickly come to appreciate is just how difficult it is to score points, because teams have to march down the field in the face of brutal, hyper-aggressive and violent opposition. Even the smallest technical mistake or momentary lapse of concentration can turn a promising drive into a game-changing disaster.


In American football, the field is rectangular with the following dimensions: 120 yards in length (of which 20 yards are allocated to each teams’ respective end zone), and 53.3 yards in length.

In rugby, the field (typically called a pitch) is rectangular with the following dimensions: 157 yards in length (110 yards between goal lines), and 77 yards in width.

Lindsay Guion states that ironically, the somewhat similar dimensions of American football fields and rugby union fields is one of the reasons why fans of one sport often find the other sport so perplexing. It is like watching your favorite TV show, but in another language. It is familiar, yet foreign at the same time.

Number of Players and Substitutions

In American football, each team has 11 players on the field, and teams are allowed an unlimited number of substitutions.

In Rugby, each team has 15 players on the field. Teams can make up to seven substitutions (this depends on the specific tournament rules or league), and once a player has left the field, he cannot return to the game unless there is an injury and no other substitutions are available.

According to Lindsay Guion, due to the brutally physical nature of American football, certain players such as running backs often have to come in and out throughout the game — because otherwise, they would simply not be able to withstand the constant violent collisions. Rugby is also a very high-impact game, and teams have to be very strategic about substitutions. If they pull an important player out early in the game to give his body a much-needed rest, there is a possibility that he won’t be able to go back in later on when the game is on the line.


In American football, forward and backwards passes are allowed, provided that the quarterback (the player who initially starts out with the ball) does not cross the line where the ball was snapped (a.k.a. the line of scrimmage). What is more, although it is rarely done, the quarterback can also legally kick the ball ahead — although doing so is typically done only in the most desperate circumstances, and virtually guarantees that the other team will get possession of the ball.

In rugby, only passing backwards is allowed — not forward, even if it is done so unintentionally (e.g. the result of a collision or a player knocking the ball forward). If a forward pass happens, then the play is halted, and a scrum takes place. This is when the players pack closely together in an attempt to get possession of the ball. In this sense, it is possible for the team that committed the forward pass infraction to regain possession of the ball. However, they might also lose possession, and be forced to try and stop the other team from scoring.

Lindsay Guion claims that of all the differences between American football and rugby, passing is probably the most blatant — and the most surprising to fans of each respective sport. However, it does make for some very exciting play and demonstrations of incredible athleticism. For example, in football the quarterback often has a split second to throw the ball before he is slammed on the ground. In rugby, players must have the agility, coordination and dexterity to run forward at full speed, yet pivot their body and pass the ball backwards to avoid what could be a ball-losing collision with the opponent.

The Bottom Line

So, which sport is better: American football of rugby? They both have storied traditions, honored players, passionate (read: obsessive) fans, and many, many rules. If you are a fan of one sport and not the other, then do yourself a favor: seriously watch an American football or rugby game, or better yet, go see a game live. You will be so amazed and impressed that your only regret will be that you did not do it sooner.

Lindsay Guion is a personal manager that works with Grammy award-winning artists, songwriters, and producers.