Comparison of American Football and Rugby Union - Scoring


A touchdown is the American equivalent of a try. Unlike American football, both codes of rugby require the ball to be grounded, whereas in American football it is sufficient for the ball to enter the end zone (in-goal area) when in the possession of a player. In American football a touchdown scores 6 points; in rugby union a try is worth 5 points.

Rugby also allows for a penalty try, awarded by the referee when he believes that a try has been prevented by the defending team's misconduct. In comparison, American football allows the referee to declare that a "Palpably unfair act" was committed by the defending team: the referee is allowed in such a situation (at his discretion) to award a score (most commonly a touchdown) or other penalty (in amateur play, including forfeiture of the game). In practice, however, such a call is extremely rare and limited to extreme circumstances, such as a player who was not in the game at the start of the play running off of the sidelines and tackling the player with the ball, as was the case in the 1954 Cotton Bowl Classic. In high school football, this can also be called if the defense commits repeated and intentional fouls at the goal line.

In both games, following a try / touchdown, there is the opportunity to score additional points by kicking the ball between the posts and over the bar. In American football this is called an extra point (worth 1 point); in rugby union it is known as a conversion (worth 2 points). (The result is that both the touchdown/extra point combination and the try/conversion combination, when successful, total to 7 points.) One key difference between an extra point and a conversion is that a conversion kick must be taken from a position in line with where the try was scored, although the distance from the try line from which the conversion kick is taken is not fixed. Hence, it is advantageous to ground the ball under the posts rather than in the corner which makes for a more difficult kick. Also, American football features the option of the going for a 2-point conversion, where the attacking team gets one chance from 3 yards out (2 in the NFL) to get the ball in the endzone again. This would be worth 2 points on top of the 6 already awarded for the touchdown.

In American football teams often opt to go for a field goal (worth 3 points) rather than attempt a touchdown, either because it is fourth down and they don't want to risk a turnover or because it is late in the game and the three points will either tie the game or put the team ahead. The rugby equivalent is a drop goal (worth 3 points). The key difference between a field goal and a drop goal is that a field goal attempt is normally kicked with a team-mate holding the ball, whereas in rugby the ball must hit the ground and be kicked immediately as it touches the ground. In American football, a field goal is generally kicked from seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, with the "holder" receiving a "long snap" from the center. This is the optimum distance for a kick to be made before the defensive team can break through the line of scrimmage to block the kick. When calculating the distance of a kick, one adds seven yards to the line of scrimmage, then adds ten more to account for the end zone (as the goal posts are in the back of the end zone) Therefore, if the line of scrimmage is the 20-yard line, a field goal taken from there would be a 37 yard kick - the ball would be set down for the kick at the 27, plus 10 yards for the end zone. Because of the mechanics of the kick, field goals are only attempted from a very specific range. In the modern NFL any kick under 40 yards is considered very makeable and should be converted by a competent kicker. Kicks from 40-45 yards are considered more challenging, but usually makeable, kicks from the 45-49 yard range are considered difficult. Kicks from 50 or more yards are considered extremely difficult, and are normally only attempted in dire situations at the end of the game when the field goal would tie win the game. The record for longest field goal is 63 yards, which has been done three times. A 65 yard kick was made during a preseason exhibition game, but preseason games are not included in record keeping. Notably, the 65 yard kick and two of the three 63 yard kicks were made in Denver, Colorado, where the elevation is more than 5,000 feet.

A similar concept in rugby is the penalty goal. Following the award of the penalty, the attacking team may opt to kick for goal rather than advance the ball by hand or punting, or forming a scrum. This scores 3 points. The penalty goal is similar to a field goal in American football in that the ball is kicked from the ground, but it cannot be charged. There is no direct equivalent to a penalty goal in American football. A rare play called a "fair catch kick" is analogous to a goal from mark which existed in rugby union at one time.

American football has one further method of scoring which does not exist in rugby. If the team with possession causes the ball to enter their own endzone, and the ball carrier is then tackled while within the endzone, then this results in a safety which scores 2 points for the attacking team and results in the defending team having to kick the ball to the team who recorded it. In rugby union this does not score any points but results in a scrum 5 meters from the try zone with the team that didn't put the ball into the in-goal area putting the ball in.

In rugby, If the ball is put past the try line by the attacking team, into the in-goal area, by means of kicking, passing or running and the receiving team grounds it or makes it dead immediately, a drop kick from the 22-metre line ensues. In American football, if a kick-off or punt goes into the endzone and the receiving team downs it without leaving the endzone, the result is a "touch back" and the receiving team gains possession of the ball at their own 20-yard line.

An important difference between the two sports involves the aftermath of a score. In American football, the scoring team kicks off, except after a safety. In rugby union, the team conceding the score kicks off (in rugby sevens, a variant of rugby union featuring seven players per side, the scoring team kicks off).

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