Most rugby league people are familiar with rugby union to a certain extent. The opposite is not the case.
Twenty years ago, most rugby union people assumed that while rugby league was great for having strong athletes mindlessly bash each other, it was rugby union that had the clever tactics and nuance. Therefore, rugby union could take the rugby league athletes and mould them by teaching them the subtitles of the union game.
Except, that did not happen. It was not the league players, but the coaches who were the huge success in rugby union. In other words, union was not behind league in brawn, but in brain.
That league is more brainless still survives, largely as it has a more working class player base. I am grateful for Duncan Wyeth’s experienced insight, but feel this feeds into has answer when he writes:
“League is about hard running and big hits. There is little creativity and even less room for the “odd shaped” player like me. They have taken away the ruck, the maul, the line out and the scrum. It just isn’t rugby.”. I have only been a member of amateur rugby league and union clubs, but my experience is completely the opposite. There are several positions in union where you can manage with no creativity (I know, I was one of them), in rugby league you will have to read the game and makes calls on the hoof rather than relying on a couple of key players for calls.
As a modest amateur player, I had the brains to play at that level in union. But having to respond to calls and makes calls off the cuff was a challenge for me when playing league.
I must also disagree with the very eloquent Eashan Thatte when he writes “I also think that rugby union allows for smaller players to play more than rugby league does, which is an advantage for people like me, who are, let’s say, “Vertically challenged”.”
Certainly at the top level, where it is easiest to compare, rugby union players are typically taller. Rob Burrow has enjoyed a full England and Super League career at 1,65 m, just over 5′5″. I am not sure there is a player at the top international level of such short stature in union. Rugby union has a great emphasis on the aerial game and size – no criticism of the game, but it does mean height is more desirable.
Rugby league is a much more flowing game that union. This is not apparent to many rugby union people, as they see the game as stopping with every tackle in league. To rugby league people, rugby union seems to stop into an unGodly mess in every tackle. Both miss the point of the ruck, which is key to understanding the game. Rugby league does have a greater emphasis on running and passing (we can see the gap in skill level in ball handling in English top level rugby union and league), which comes from the importance of these aspects of the game.
Tom Barrett’s post draws attention to how rugby league has changed. Rugby league used to have unlimited tackles, with the attack withdrawing five years. Now, there are limited tackles (six), with the defence having to retreat. This puts greater value on possession, as it is limited. While there was a dominant conservative style, we see Castleford Tigers and Ipswich Jets are leading the way in keeping possession and doing something with it.
Rugby union retains the unlimited tackle combined with the offense withdrawing. This puts greater emphasis on territory and thus kicking (so height is more important and passing slightly less so).
So, my preference of for league. They are both great and similar sports however.
My father came from a strong league background. He played it for his entire career. However, as the years progressed and both his sons played Rugby Union, he began to understand and appreciate how Rugby Union is played. Nowadays, he says openly that he thinks Rugby Union is far superior.
What appeals to him so much (and to me as well) is how freely the game is played. At every single tackle the defending team is given the opportunity to recover the ball, instead of League where the only way to get the ball is to force a mistake or wait through the set of 6. Rugby Union also has a more open playing style because of the ruck structure, instead of waiting for 10 or more seconds at each tackle.
Another weakness is the way League has strayed from the game it once was, for example, non-contested scrums, ‘ knock-ons’ that blatantly went backwards, and the need for a TMO on every try. These were all much less apparent years ago.
I am from a strong Union area. We played it at school, most of my friends played competitively. I grew up watching both games with my dad, though more Union because he worked in the Insurance industry in London and knew players from Harlequins.
I still watch internationals, I still have friends that play. However, they’ve tinkered with the game so much, I find it fairly unwatchable most of the time. Every season, they make changes to the point where rucking is an utter joke now. The fans don’t help because they look down their noses and talk crap about Rugby League and Football, when their sport constantly changes to win fans or stop the latest Machiavelian tactic. For me, the Italy-England game was the last straw. The game has eaten itself with its obsession with the “dark arts”, which frustrate me as a long-time viewer. The game seems to be more about conning your opponent into giving up a penalty than actually physically besting your opponent.
As such, over the past 10 years or so, I’ve returned more to the other game I watched with my dad, Rugby League. It’s faster, it’s more action-packed. It’s clearer as to what is going on. You can’t play “up-the-jumper” rugby and so teams either have to be more physical or more intelligent and more highly-skilled to break the opposition down. The problem it has is that it’s a harsh mistress. It’s much easier to get a blowout than in Union. If you’re 10% worse than your opponent, that will be greatly exaggerated on the scoreboard.
Personally, I play rugby union, but I’ll try to offer my opinions on both.
First, with rugby league: I do like the idea of not needing rucks and such, since it more closely resembles touch rugby, which I am fond of, not being the physical rugby player myself. Watching videos on rugby league has shown me that it can get quite violent at the tackle, more so than rugby union in my experience. I also am not a fan of the staccato gameplay and the limited amount of attempts to get to the try zone. That part more closely resembles American football and not the true spirit of rugby, which is a free-flowing game. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have mad respect for everyone that plays a contact sport, because you are literally putting your life on the line to win a game, or a championship. It’s just that I’m not a fan of the gameplay style of rugby league.
Now, moving on to rugby union: Tackles are fun. Getting into tackles and tackling people is fun. Even though I said I wasn’t a physical player, rucks can be awesome when you’re the one guy on your team holding off 2 or 3 forwards, and you get that rush of adrenaline when you successfully push them off. I live for that shit every day of the week. I also like the free-flowing style of union, much more so than the staccato style of rugby league. I can handle 40-minute halves, and I can handle running hard in the back line. Being a wing, my job is hard. I have to keep up with the rest of the line, also making sure that the wicked-fast opposite wing doesn’t break the line, because when you give someone that speed, they aren’t stopping. I also think that rugby union allows for smaller players to play more than rugby league does, which is an advantage for people like me, who are, let’s say, “Vertically challenged”.
So overall, being a student of rugby union, and not rugby league, it’s hard for me to provide an unbiased view of things, but I can tell you that as of right now, I like rugby union a lot more than rugby league.