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Rugby Union, or League, Which do You Prefer?

Updated on November 21, 2010

Great Games and less prima donnas than in soccer

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Hard tackle in Union game photoTry in League rugbyThese are all Rugby Seven players...wonder how they knew they all had 7? photo
Hard tackle in Union game photo
Hard tackle in Union game photo
Try in League rugby
Try in League rugby
These are all Rugby Seven players...wonder how they knew they all had 7? photo
These are all Rugby Seven players...wonder how they knew they all had 7? photo

Should they be called Blood Sports?

No padding and pretense: Takes a man to play rugby!

Another one of those arguments that never gets settled is which is the better game, rugby union or rugby league. The answer, of course, is neither, they are both great ball games, all with huge followings and teams from many countries these days.

Rugby Union was the first game to be “invented,” legend says a chap called William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School, first did some wizardry with a soccer ball, carrying it from one end of the pitch to the other and “scoring” a goal - or some such. Doesn’t sound very likely, although a plaque to this effect is mounted at the school, and there is no doubt the game, as did the name, originated in this school way back in the early 19th Century.

In 1895, rugby suffered binary fission and Rugby League came into being after a long running dospute about player's renumeration. Then, as today, the divide was North/South, league becoming the preserve of the northern schools and the working class, while union remained more the province of the southern, middle and upper class schools.

There is no little resentment among aficionados of league today who rightly point out their game is much simpler and easier to understand; it is faster and most points scored come from exciting “tries,” rather than from penalty kicks as is the case all too often in union.

But the main problem seems to be the times we live in. Both league and union are contact sports, but union is the more physical game; the players are heavier nowadays, featuring more muscle-bound Neanderthals. Rugby union is considered by many to be the most violent and dangerous ball game in the world. Even 350 pound (25 stone) American Football players shake their heads in disbelief at the amount of blood that is shed without anyone taking much notice. Their own Gridiron undoubtedly has more violent collisions between the truly huge players, but they are well protected by headgear and padding. The only concession in rugby is padded headgear worn by some and optional gloves, along with ear bandages and knee elastic supports as needed. Rules regulating how tackles can be made are tightened all the time as players get bigger and serious accidents are more frequent. But this is still a game where toughness and the ability to suffer pain and shrug-off quite nasty bruises and lesions is mandatory, along with ball handling and athleticism.

Union attracts more media money than does league and the player’s remuneration reflects this. Some grumble that union was played at the schools the BBC, Sky TV and other CEO’s went to, so they favour this game over league. But the truth is, what the public want will attract the big media money and, ipso facto, the big stars of the sport. The two games are so similar in the fundamentals, huge men apart, that players from one game have little trouble adapting to the other and players have opted to change.

The rules for rugby league are certainly vastly less complex than those of union. In fact, is it often said with too much truth that no one: players, officials, reporters, commentators, much less the paying public, really understand all the plethora of rules and sub rules that govern the game. Whereas instructions for playing league can be assimilated by anyone with an IQ larger than his (or at least my) belt size in a few hours. For this reason, I am not going to attempt to explain the rules for either game within this two-dimensional hub article. There’s plenty of info available on line, and nothing beats going to the game with a knowledgeable friend and have him explain the finer points to you. At least where rugby league is concerned, it will be a true friend indeed who will volunteer to go to 10 union games to try to have you understanding the labyrinthine rules. I certainly don’t, and, incidentally, like both games equally. My favourite, though, is American football with rules far worse than union or any other field of human competition. Great game though!

Footnote. The last good rugby player in my family was my uncle David (Bill) Mercer, who captained King’s College Wimbledon’s Union team into his forties, before WW!. He not only survived the rigours of the game, he lived until age 101 and passed away in April of this year (2009) greatly loved and missed by his family. You up there now, Bill, throwing ‘em up in the air and forgetting to catch ‘em!?




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    • profile image

      Rick 5 years ago

      Union has the media but league has the game. Most players converting to union usually go straight into the England team, never visa versa. League players are faster and fitter and the game is more entertaining

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi James bailey and rirfifi.

      As a non-player, i find both games equally entertaining. We don't get enough on BBC now that Sky is scooping everything up


    • profile image

      rirififi 5 years ago

      beautiful info ,delighted to see

    • Jamesmbailey profile image

      James Bailey 6 years ago from Portsmouth

      Internationally you can't beat rugby union as it is far more competitive than international Rugby league. I do prefer the super league to the guiness premiership though.

      Great hub.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      And worth much more! Thanks for input, RB...Bob

    • profile image

      Rugby Betting 6 years ago

      Rugby union for me. I grew up in Leicester the home of the best English rugby union side over the past 30 years so I'm probably biased. In England there is definitely a north-south divide. South of England is union and the north is league. In Australia there seems more of a divide of rugby vs non-rugby. Aussie rules in Victoria and then league and union in NSW and Queensland.

      My two cents!

    • profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago

      Good point...thanks...Bob

    • profile image

      The Burnt Out Digger 7 years ago

      I played both codes when I was much younger and found that Union was the better game to play whilst League was a better game to watch.

      As a front row forward I felt much safer in the tighter scrums of Union than I did in the much looser scrums of League.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Outstanding comments from all! I apologise for not getting back to you with these comments. I was new to hubs when I wrote this, and I didnt realize comments would go on and on as new people found the subject. Bob

    • profile image

      Petalac 7 years ago

      The only reason we are so into Rugby Union in NZ, is because it is the only sport we are good at, the rest of the world have got more exciting and faster sports to compete in and Union is their 3rd or fourth sport of choice, of course we are going to be the best! As Petalac said nothing worse than watching grown men standing around for 80 minutes in bewilderment as the play gets halted for yet another rule infringement. Yes i agree Yaaaaaaaawn!!!!

    • profile image

      kovana 7 years ago

      Well ever since Rugby union got the go ahead for the 2016 Olympics... Go Rugby union!

    • profile image

      RugbyGIRL 7 years ago

      Girls Can play rugby as well

      there are gilrs teams for both Union and league

      I play union my self and i repersent my school in the top team.

      By saying that it is a mans sport its very untrue

      i have seen the Wallaroos (Womens Rugby union team for Australia) they are really good better then the boys maybe.

      the girls at my schoo acually do better then the boys.

      well that is my opion

    • profile image

      sam 7 years ago

      i feel sum stiff comp at the rwc 2011 cumin from ireland,australia,wales,argentina . what ever these teams do i just hope they stop south africa from going for their third title. lol

    • profile image

      CHUR 7 years ago

      rugby league is way better than union. great article by the way. gp the west tigers and eels :)

    • knell63 profile image

      knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      Being a Welshman from Cardiff you'd have to expect me to say Union without a doubt.

    • Aussie Holiday profile image

      Aussie Holiday 8 years ago from New Zealand

      Rugby players are molded for positions based on their physical attributes ie, big and heavy = prop, tall and heavy = lock, etc. League players are more even throughout the positions, backs can play in the forwards ie, centres as second rowers. So i guess my point is that if you are considering playing, your body type/shape plays more of a part in rugby than league.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 8 years ago

      The past year seen the NRL League straight up against the Super 14 Union and Rugby League was outstanding and seems to have recovered after the Super League Schism - Union looks better since the new rules in the Super 14 competition as far as ball movement but would like to see some defence. The NRL kicks off this weekend - I am expecting a super season. Different games though - I see virtues in both but as far as pure physical athleticism and finesse League is hands down the winner, Northern hemisphere Union can be an eyesore with all the kicking and League outside of the top UK clubs can be messy at best but has improved. Anyway no doubt everyone has an opinion on this one.

    • profile image

      Nizam_Oliviero 8 years ago

      Greetings . I'm from Singapore . In Singapore , we usually like to play rugby union . So i don't really know Rugby League .

    • sarcasticool profile image

      sarcasticool 8 years ago from New Zealand

      Rugby Union no doubt about it for me. Even though I'm a New Zealander and we are currently the World Champions at Rugby League, I am 100% a Rugby die-hard All Black supporter, and though we may have the best win % and sit on top of world rugby most seasons, there is only one prize that matters and has continued to elude us since 1987... The Rugby World Cup, and now we finally get to host it! GO THE ALL BLACKS!

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 8 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Yeah. There's more meat; more gong on in Union. I lived in the USA for some years and got used to gridiron and Union is the nearest thing we have here. Bob

    • evan26 profile image

      evan26 8 years ago

      Defiantly more of a rugby league fan...perhaps due to Australia's recent form in union.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 8 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks, PL, you're right, too! Bob

    • profile image

      PL 8 years ago

      Good article. I have one "complaint" though: It was Rugby Union that was first played, and it was Rugby League that was created after the 1895 schism. Cheers.

    • profile image

      diogenes 8 years ago

      Thanks all: Another hubber has written more in depth about rugby, you might enjoy his artilce. Bob

    • Gilo profile image

      Gilo 8 years ago

      Rugby is the real beautiful game. It's physical, but it also requires good tactics, and a level of intelligence that you don't always see in a lot of team sports. (While they might look like neanderthals, rugby players are often very intelligent well read men.)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

      Great article but I have no idea about rugby. I am sorry.