NFL & Rugby – Who is Tougher? #Part1

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With rugby players turning up in the NFL and an ex-NFL player now on the Sharks roster, we’ve been thinking: who’s tougher – players in the NFL or on the rugby field? In this multi part post, we try to take a stab at answering this age-old question.

Just to set the scene – I’m a big NFL fan myself.


In my opinion it is one of most well organised, well-marketed sporting unions on the planet and while I always tune in for big events like the Superbowl, I also never miss a football movie.

So any perceived, non-American bias won’t be a problem here.

While opinion on this topic will swing depending on where you live and what you grew up with – we’ve decided to look at this argument as factually as possible, using 6 criteria to guide us.

The criteria:

1. Size & Strength
2. Playing time
3. Padding/apparel
4. Complexity
5. Impact
6. Injury rate

These will effectively serve as rounds where NFL and rugby will go toe to toe and after the sixth round, there will be only one sport left standing.

So without further ado, let’s ring the bell and dive into round 1.

1. Size & Strength

Much like rugby, in the NFL, size varies. Unlike rugby however it varies quite drastically – ranging from 5’6 running backs to 6’7 defensive tackles. What’s more, outside of sumo wrestling, the NFL must play home to some of the professional sport’s heaviest specimens with linemen regularly tipping the scales at 300+ pounds (136kgs +) whilst outside backs weigh in at around 200 pounds (90 kgs) on average.

Conversely on the rugby field, according to this article, an average rugby player today stands 185 cms tall and weighs in at 96,5 kgs. We all know that player’s size has trended upwards massively in terms of height and weight since the early days and according to the same article by 2039, the average player will be 1.88 cms tall and weigh in at 101 kgs.

Lastly, though the research is not available, I’d say that rugby players would on average be leaner that NFL stars, but you’d be foolish if you mistook that for a lack of strength. For example, at the NFL combine (the annual try-out for young college football stars) a player is expected to bench 225 pounds (102kgs) as many times as possible irrespective of position.

Can you imagine Ruan Pienaar benching 102 kgs? Didn’t think so.

Looking at this picture, the quote “sometimes Goliath kicks the shit out of David” jumps to mind. Few people can honestly admit, in any fight, that they’d back the smaller guy.

A clear mismatch and this round is over folks.

NFL 1 – Rugby 0


What are your thoughts guys? Think we’re on the money or smoking our socks? Let us know in the comments or alternatively – hit us with a tweet @leftbacks.

In our next instalment we’ll put both sports through a few more rounds; playing time, apparel and complexity and see what the scores look like.

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