“Rugby is a thugs game played by gentlemen and football is a gentlemen’s game played by thugs.”
Many years ago when I was at school I had a teacher who was a mad Rugby League fan. I was, and still am, an avid football fan (well Stockport County but it still counts) and we once had a disagreement about which sport was harder.
He thought footballers were softies and I said that whilst rugby players seemed harder football was a quicker and more fluid game and so the footballer was more prone to injury.
So remembering this discussion I have decided to find out which is the harder game.
My initial research seemed to give rugby the first hand on the dangerous sports trophy. The injury rate for football is lower than rugby. For every 1000 hours there are twice as many injuries when playing rugby than playing football.
Football injuries unsurprisingly are usually leg injuries. Knees and ankles take the brunt of the punishment which is why when a footballer goes off injured you usually see cold packs immediately put on a knee or ankle.
There are, of course, a lot of cruciate knee injuries in football caused by the need to suddenly change direction. Of ten players when they retire need ligament knee supports to help alleviate the knee pain when doing exercise.
Rugby has on average one serious injury a match and about a quarter of them involve the head. As we know there are often blood injuries in rugby which sparked the recent “bloodgate” scandal when Harlequins player Tom Williams faked a blood injury so another player could take his place.
So on the field rugby probably wins but I wanted to see if there was a greater long term effect on the body of playing football long term as opposed to rugby.
The UK Sports Institute sent out a questionnaire to five hundred former footballers. Nearly half of the respondents retired from the game because of injury. Forty two percent of those were due to acute injuries and fifty-eight percent because of chronic problems.[i]
As I mentioned above the knee takes a lot of pounding in the game of football and most of the acute and chronic injuries forcing retirement were to do with knee problems.
The report concluded that the risk for soccer players of osteoarthritis in at least one of the lower joints was very high and “significantly higher than the rest of the population.”[ii]
But is it higher than rugby?
A study into the injury consequences of playing rugby league by the Faculty of Health and Sciences, Southern Cross University, Australia found that there was “an increased risk of osteoarthritis” in retired rugby players.[iii]
So long term it is a draw.
On points rugby wins and I also read in another study of injuries sustained by playing rugby one player received his injury as a, “result of falling drunk downstairs after a game.”[iv]
Rugby players also win when it comes to drinking.
[i] Br J Sports Med 2001, Propensity for osteoarthritis and lower limb joint pain in retired professional soccer players, S Drawer and C W Fuller, P 402
[ii] Ibid, P402
[iii] Br J Sports Med 1997, Injury consequences from participation in professional rugby league: a preliminary investigation, Rudi Meir, Kevin McDonald, Ray Russell, P132
[iv] Br J Sports Med 1992, Spinal injuries sustained during rugby, J R Silver, P256