Comparison of American Football and Rugby Union - Advancing The Ball

Advancing The Ball

In American football, the team that is in possession of the ball, the offense, has four downs to advance the ball 10 yards towards the opponent's end zone. If the offense gains 10 yards, it gets another set of four downs. If the offense fails to gain 10 yards after 4 downs, it loses possession of the ball.

The ball is put into play by a snap. All players line up facing each other at the line of scrimmage. One offensive player, the center, then passes (or "snaps") the ball between his legs to a teammate, usually the quarterback.

Players can then advance the ball in two ways:

  • By running with the ball, also known as rushing. One ball-carrier can hand the ball to another; this is known as a handoff. A ball-carrier can also perform a lateral or backward pass as in Rugby.
  • By passing the ball forwards to a team-mate as long as the passer is behind the line of scrimmage.

A down ends, and the ball becomes dead, after any of the following:

  • The player with the ball is tackled.
  • A forward pass goes out of bounds or touches the ground before it is caught. This is known as an incomplete pass. The ball is returned to the original line of scrimmage for the next down.
  • The ball or the player with the ball goes out of bounds.
  • A team scores.

Rugby union is based on the 'right to contest possession'. A team is not required to surrender possession when the ball carrier is tackled, in contrast to American football, where a team must surrender their possession when a player is tackled and no downs remain. Rugby union players must win possession in open play, unless the team in possession makes an infringement, scores, or the ball leaves the field of play.

A team in rugby union can advance the ball in two ways:

  • By running forward with the ball. The ball carrier typically passes to a teammate just before he is tackled, to permit another player to continue the run towards the try line, thus quickly gaining ground. The ball carrier cannot pass to any teammate that is closer to the try line. This would be a forward pass, which is illegal. The player may also attempt to form a maul and push their way to the try line.
  • By kicking the ball forwards and attempting to recover it. Only the kicker or players behind the kicker are allowed to recover the ball otherwise it is classed as a forward pass and a penalty awarded (illegal in American Football, unless the ball is first touched by another player).

In rugby the method of attack is typically decided by the person in the number ten jersey (the flyhalf). Once the forwards gain possession of the ball after a scrum, line out or ruck the ball is usually passed to this player who is the midpoint between the forwards and the backs. He/she must read the opposition's defensive strategy and calls a play accordingly, either running, passing or kicking to other players. After the set piece or ruck the no.10 is the first player who has time to control the play and must therefore be an expert at a wide variety of kicks and an expert passer. The rule differences mean that there are a wider variety of kicks and kicking strategies in rugby compared to American football.

Possession may change in different ways in both games:

  1. When the ball is kicked to the opposing team; this can be done at any time but it is normal to punt on the last down in American football when out of field goal range.
  2. Following an unsuccessful kick at goal.
  3. When an opposing player intercepts a pass.
  4. When the player in possession drops the ball and it is recovered by an opposition player. This is called a fumble in American football.
  5. In rugby union the opposition are awarded a scrum if the player in possession drops the ball forwards or makes the ball go forwards with any part of his body other than his feet and the opposition are unable to gain an advantage from the lost possession. This is called a knock-on.
  6. In rugby union if the ball goes out of play, the opposition are awarded a line-out, this is called ball back. However, if the ball was kicked out of play as the result of the awarding of a penalty the team that kicked the ball out throws the ball in. Both teams can contest in a line-out.
  7. In American football possession changes hands following a successful score with the scoring team kicking off to the opposition. In rugby union the team who conceded the score must kick off to the team who scored.
  8. In American football, an automatic handover takes place when the team in possession runs out of downs.

In both codes, tactical kicking is an important aspect of play. In American football, it is normal to punt on the last down, but, as in rugby union, a kick can take place at any phase of play.

Read more about this topic:  Comparison Of American Football And Rugby Union

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