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Are rugby players fitter than football players?

There’s no doubt that elite athletes in both sports are at the top of their games, but how do they compare when sized up against each other? We take an unbiased look at the physical attributes of both sports to decide who’s fitter... rugby players or football players?

Fitness is defined in many different ways, but it’s important to note, by the ‘fittest’ sport this doesn’t refer to an athletes level of general fitness, but rather the all-round ability, strength, stamina and skill set required by their chosen sport. We compare both rugby and football players abilities and put their fitness level to the test to see how they compare. 


Strength is a critical factor for rugby, and without a doubt, a rugby player will exert more power than a football player would in a game. This is because rugby is a very contact heavy sport- so from a weightlifting point of view, rugby players are much fitter than footballers. 

The average football player would weigh 73.5kg and it is one of the best sports for developing core leg muscles such as calves, thighs and glutes. The average weight of a professional rugby player though is an incredible 95.7kg! Rugby players have all over toned muscle, including arms, back and explosive power in their legs.

While footballers are theoretically very fit, the challenges of their sport do not go far beyond running at different speeds. 

Winner: Rugby 


When it comes to running, footballers are much fitter than rugby players. The average rugby player runs on the pitch for 6-7km per game, but the average footballer runs 10-11km. If you’re playing in a forward position in rugby then you are not going to run as much as a midfielder would, whereas all footballers need good cardio levels to run consistently the whole game.

Whilst in both sports you will hit the same heart-rate peaks, you won’t be making the same consistent demands on the aerobic system as a footballer.

Winner: Football


There’s no doubt in our minds that rugby players are more resilient than football players. There’s that age old saying that footballers spend 90 minutes pretending to be hurt, whilst rugby players spend 80 minutes pretending they’re not! When it comes to pure toughness and grit, rugby players have the competitive edge!

Winner: Rugby 


Rugby requires a high level of talent and skill. For 80-minutes rugby players have to be mentally switched on and tactically aware, they need to have perfect hand and eye coordination to give and receive the ball at high speeds.

Football by contrast involves constant chasing across the field with the soul aim of getting the ball in the goal. The game is, by its nature, much less tactical that rugby. However the footwork involved with football is like no other - controlling a ball with only your feet whilst chasing it across a pitch is no easy feat.

Winner: Rugby (just!)


Want to stay off the stretcher? Then opt for a career in football! Unsurprisinly, injury rates in rugby are much higher than in football, with an average 1.4 serious injuries per match. 

Whilst the most common football injuries are to knees and ankles, caused by the constant strain put on ligaments by changing direction, a quarter of rugby injuries are to the head, which is much more serious and potentially life threatening. 

Winner: Football 

The verdict  

The winner is...drumroll please….Rugby!

OK, so maybe we are biased, but rugby is more dangerous, more physical, more complicated than football and, for us, it’s the only way we’d want to spend a Saturday afternoon on the pitch.

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