Rugby: An American Football Players Guide

If you are looking to transition from football to rugby, take it from me RUGBY is a different beast. After playing 4 years of D1 football at FIU; now entering my 4th year of club rugby for Pasadena RFC I can say with confidence, Rugby is harder, unpredictable and it HURTS and you WILL question your sanity.

Photo Credit: Greg Smookler

Football players crossing over to Rugby, in America, has been a growing trend as of late, with the recent success of Carlin Isles and before Isles, Miles Craigwell. USA Rugby has even experimented with former NFL Star Ahman Green. The National Rugby Football League or NRFL , a potential professional Rugby XV league, is looking to build off the football talent in America.

Traditionally, sports utilize one specific energy system either anaerobic or aerobic, Rugby uses both, The aerobic(cardio, consistent running) and anaerobic (sprinting, tackling, grappling) demands are equal, which makes rugby an intriguing sport play and train for.

There are similarities between American football and Rugby, in the fact that you carry the ball and tackle and play on a field with goal posts. But that’s- where it ends. The most obvious difference between rugby and football is the lack of pads. The understated difference between the two is that there is no blocking… zero; in fact it’s a penalty and loss of possession. If you played defense in football you’ll love it, If you played offense, not so much.  I know what you’re thinking- “I play football I’ll run by everyone”, “I  can juke everybody” or “I have football speed”. If you continue to think that way….may the force be with you.

However, if you do not possess the “Force” or “Schwartz”, no worries, I am here to make your transition easier. Just do me one favor…everything you learned from football, throw it out the window, especially tackling, there is no launching in Rugby

Here are some key words you’ll need to know:

Ruck: Is how you secure possession after a teammate has been tackle and begin a new phase(think messy no huddle offense)


Phase: rugby version of “play” only it ends if a player is tackled or the ball is dead( out of bounds, knock on)

Knock on- when player knocks the ball forward, results in penalty.

Gain line- imaginary line in front of the defense (line of scrimmage)Show picture

The most important concept to remember when playing rugby, is that it never STOPS! If you get tackled- get up! If you make a tackle- GET UP! You may need to make another tackle immediately….let that sink in for a moment.

In football a tackle is made, the players involved gets up, exchange pleasantries, walk to their respective huddles, call the play, walk to the line of scrimmage, wait for the whistle, then snap the ball. The average length of a play is 5 seconds with a 40 second break in between. According to a study in the Wall Street Journal, the average amount of time the ball is live and players are in action is 11 minutes. It takes 3 hours to complete a game and there is only 11 minutes of action!! That’s half an episode of  Seinfeld.

nfl huddle

In Rugby, there is no stoppage unless the ball is out of bounds or there is a penalty, even then it’s a 5-10 second rest. With no stoppage and endless collisions and grappling for possession, you have to ask yourself, when was the time last you ran full speed into another human being, got up  and did it repeatedly for 80 continuous minutes? That’s what I thought.


Conditioning is key, and not just speed,but speed endurance. Also the ability to accelerate and decelerate without fatigue for continuous amount of time. Phases( rugby version of plays) vary when when it comes to length in time. A phase has ended when either the ball is dead, or player tackled; but once that player is tackled, he pops the ball to a teammate and the next phase already has begun. One must be in top aerobic and anaerobic shape to play rugby.

How to prepare:

Interval Tempo or Fartlek training, fartlek is a swedish meaning “speed play” the workout focuses on the shift in gears from steady state to full speed and back down to steady state. You can this on the field or track. begin with a dynamic warm-up, sample workout as follows on track sprint the straight aways the jog the curves on the field you would jog the back line of the try zone 4 laps no rest is a good start once you improve you’ll can then shit fartlek timed runs i.e run/jog for 60 seconds then sprint for 15 seconds aim for total of 10-12 minutes. It will suck, but stay consistent and you wont remember ever being out of shape.

Speed endurance, how long can you hold your top end speed and can you repeat it over and again. 110m and 150m sprints are good tool to achieve this. You can start with 3 sets of 3 reps of 110m aiming to complete each sprint in 16 seconds with seconds between reps and 3 minutes between sets. Once you begin to feel improvement lower the time and rest to account for adaptation

When it comes to body composition, word to the wise, drop the fat, if it jiggles get rid of it. This game is so taxing any “dead weight” will hinder your performance and you will be come a liability on the field. If you do everything above you’ll like these two in a matter of weeks.

Sonny Bill Williams
Sonny Bill Williams
James Haskel
James Haskel







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