Australian rules football vs Rugby: What are the differences between the two contact sports?

Australian rules football vs Rugby: What are the differences between the two contact sports?

Steve Njuguna
updated at October 9, 2023 at 10:28 AM

Australia is one of the world's biggest rugby nations. It is also the birthplace of Australian Rules Football. In this article, we look at both sports in detail, focusing on their similarities and differences.

Jake Riccardi
Jake Riccardi of the Giants in action during a GWS Giants AFL training session at VAILO Community Centre on September 20, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

In terms of popularity, Aussie rules football is not as popular as rugby globally, but in Australia, it is the most watched sport. It enjoys an almost cult-like following among fans, and its professional league, the Australian Football League, is the richest domestic sports league in Australia.

What are the differences between Australian Rules Football and Rugby?

There are significant differences with regard to equipment, style of play and the general rule book. Here they are in a table:



Australian Rules Football

Game Duration

80 minutes, two halves of 40 minutes

80 minutes, four quarters of 20 minutes each


7 substitutions

3 substitutions


In rugby the score is awarded for a try when a player crosses the opposition’s try line and grounds the ball. This is worth 5 points, with a chance for a two-point conversion immediately after the try.

To score in Aussie rules, you either kick a goal between the two middle goal posts, which is worth 6 points, or you kick a behind between the two outer goal posts, which is worth 1 point. If the ball is knocked through the goalposts by a hand, that also counts as a behind and scores 1 point.

Number of players

15 (unless you are playing in the sevens format)


Field shape



Rugby predominantly requires one to focus on making ground while carrying the ball continuously, while the nature of Aussie Rules Football is the opposite, as the players are not expected to hold the ball continuously but in bits that do not exceed seven seconds. This aspect leads to many points scored in Aussie Rules football due to the free-flowing nature of the kicking game.

What is the difference between an Australian rules football ball and a Rugby ball?

The difference comes in size and weight, as the rugby ball is slightly heavier than the Aussie Rules ball. The colour is also different as Aussie Rules prefer yellow or red balls while most Rugby balls are predominantly white or cream coloured.

The light weight of the Aussie Rules ball supports the game's kick-heavy style and allows the player to comfortably score or punt. The material of the rugby ball is more suited to grip, and most good kickers in the game are specialists who have worked hard to master trajectory.

Rugby ball
The Rugby ball is slightly heavier than the Aussie Rules ball. Images by Rugby World Cup/ Getty
Source: Getty Images

What are the origins of Aussie Rules Football?

The initial laws of Aussie Rules football can be attributed to Tom Wills, who, in 1858, published a codebook for football in an attempt to find something that would keep cricket players busy during their holidays. From Melbourne, it spread to other parts of Australia and her colonies.

What are the origins of Rugby?

Rugby was started in 1823 in England when, during a game of football, a student named William Webb Ellis took the ball in his hand and started running with it. Formal rules for the game were introduced in 1871 after the creation of the Rugby Football Union. It spread globally through colonialism as the British introduced it to new territories.

A lot of people assume Aussie Rules Football and Rugby are the same thing due to their many similarities. But the differences are plenty from style to rules and even global popularity. For Australians, they like the smaller multicoloured ball. For the rest of the world, the good old heavy cream-coloured ball is a favourite.

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Steve Njuguna photo
Steve Njuguna
Steve Njuguna is a media professional with close to a decade of experience in the sports media industry. He has previously worked as a sports journalist with Bamba Sports TV, Vybez Radio and The Nairobian newspaper.