Lacrosse and rugby are immensely popular with their prominence growing exponentially every year.
However, playing either of the sports is no joke – they are two of the most competitive fast-paced high-contact sports out there.
But which sport is tougher to play on the field?
Rugby is without a doubt a tougher game than lacrosse because of the physicality involved in the game. Statistically, there is a greater risk of injury in rugby, and there is minimal protective equipment.
However, to answer this question objectively, there are a number of elements you might want to consider before reaching a conclusion of your own.
Let’s take a look at how the two sports compare in terms of their difficulty and the effort they demand on and off the field based on different aspects.
When it comes to being physical, barely any sport can compare with a game like rugby where major injuries are inevitable. In fact, the physical aspect of the game is the most critical element of the sport.
The game is characterized by intermittent actions including recurring accelerations and decelerations, in addition to various collision activities. (Source)
Rugby has developed quite the reputation over time for the countless number of injuries its players face every day while wrestling for the possession of the ball. Injuries and sprains in the joints, spine, knee ligaments, ACLs, ankles, and hamstrings are a common occurrence. Spinal injuries from scrums may also lead to paralysis.
Rugby originated as a game without any rules that was considered a sport for the uneducated mobs in the early 19th century.
Today as rules have optimized this game, tackles, pushes, and collisions – all are still perfectly legal in this high-risk sport where an injury is bound to occur once in a while if you play the game regularly.
One phrase that is frequently used to describe rugby is the ‘hooligans’ game played by gentlemen’. At youth levels, it is a high contact sport only, but at higher levels, it is a thudding collision sport.
Forward passing is forbidden in rugby.
This means that if one wants to score, they need to go through a team of defensive players ready to clash into them.
As a sport that works the players’ bodies to their limits, combines a wide array of physical activities, and involves the use of every body part, rugby is a very strenuous sport to undertake.
On the other hand, lacrosse is a moderate-risk team sport. The legal contact areas in lacrosse are limited to only the zones between the front of one’s shoulder and waist.
In women’s lacrosse, even this contact is illegal.
Despite this, like all sports, there is a risk of injuries from both games. Body checking and stick checking are allowed and the lacrosse ball and hard sticks can hit a player very roughly and tend to leave minor bruises or sprains.
However, the risk and intensity of these injuries are way lesser in lacrosse than in rugby. Moreover, the majority of the injuries are due to minor strains and wounds, with major injuries occurring more rarely.
Rugby games are played mostly on natural grass and on the off chance that rain might pour down, the field can get really muddy. This makes the sport way more difficult and dangerous to play than any other sport that is played on artificial grass.
Additionally, the field is open which means that the players are bound to get their hands and feet dirty. All of this increases the risk of injuries significantly.
Lacrosse is played on a field of synthetic turf.
The quality, stiffness, and reduced friction of this artificial turf mean that the rate of significant injuries is much lesser than on the natural ground.
However, certain injuries such as turf burns and turf toe are characteristics of the synthetic playing field.
Tackle after tackle, dodge after dodge, collision after collision rugby players keep playing with little to no interruptions with only one break in between a total playing time of 80 minutes.
Even the kicker has to play for the whole duration of the game.
This means that players have to have lots of stamina to run up and down the field in pursuit of the ball. The game demands that players have excellent speed and agility on the field when running into several other players for forty minutes before a short half-time break of 10 minutes relieves them.
Divided into two non-stop halves of 40 minutes each, rugby is a relentless and fast-paced sport characterized by constant action from every player throughout the eighty minutes that has its fan on the edge of their seats.
In comparison, lacrosse has a total playing time of 60 minutes that is composed of four 15 minute quarters.
There is a brief break in between each quarter and a fifteen-minute intermission between the second and third quarters.
Although both sports are fast-paced and demand a lot of stamina, the duration time of rugby is longer with fewer breaks and is hence more demanding in this aspect.
Rugby appeals to athletes who love some old-fashioned rugged competition without the use of protective gear.
The only gear rugby players wear are a rugby shirt, shorts, and cleats.
That’s right! No helmets, no guards, and no padding to protect their bodies.
Players can choose to wear a mouth guard, thin shoulder pads, and shin guards if they want, but without the thick padding that other athletes rely upon so heavily, the risk of injuries is much higher.
Since rugby players lack protective equipment, players also have to devise new strategies to combat their opponents with skillful and tactical techniques that would not injure them.
In contrast, lacrosse players are required to wear all sorts of protective gear.
Goalies have to wear even more protective gear than players in other positions.
Protective equipment such as helmets, gloves, shoulder pads, chest protectors, throat guards, etc. is the kind of gear lacrosse players wear every time on the field. This lowers the risk of injuries on the field by protecting the players’ bodies from collisions.
In rugby, it’s extremely important to tackle your opponents and knock them hard like a cannonball. But, it is just as important to be able to withstand a hard tackle from your opponent.
Rugby players are trained like absolute beasts to develop and maintain muscular endurance and physical strength to power through fatigue.
Regardless of the position they play, players need to keep the opponent guessing what could be their next move and need to be constantly on the attack/defense in rugby because the landscape of a rugby game can change within the last minute.
Players have to run, maul, tackle, scrimmage, dodge, and more ceaselessly for 40 minutes before they can get a break. This tests their physical as well as mental strength to endure such a heavy and long beating.
Training to enhance endurance also augments a quicker recovery from an injury following a match.
The best players have the most endurance to cover the field quickly and to participate in dodges, tackles, scrums – all of which require Herculean strength.
Similarly, lacrosse is also 60 minutes of action that demands consistent performance and aerobic endurance from players in all positions.
The attackmen need to be on the move constantly to keep the defenders right on their tails and defenders need to constantly keep chasing them. In order to do so effectively, players need to maintain a high level of endurance and speed throughout the match.
But since less contact and a lesser playing time is involved in lacrosse, the amount of endurance it demands falls short of the demands of rugby on the playing field.
A typical rugby team consists of 15 players with seven players spread throughout the field and eight players in the tight scrum.
Although this means there would be lesser individual work for each team player because they can rely on their teammates for support, it also means that there are more players in the opposing team.
This means that there are more players to tackle you when you’re in possession of the ball, making your job to take the ball across the try line way tougher.
Lacrosse is played with two teams of ten players each.
This means that a player can’t rely so heavily on their teammates to help them when in need and the field is more spread out (which means more running). However, this also means that there are lesser opponents working against you on the field.
Training & Skills
In an elite sports team environment such as that of rugby, preparing athletes physically has become the main concern for coaches.
To cope with the intensity and physicality associated with the sport, players have to train with might and main. This physical training is designed to help athletes deliver effective performance on the field and recover quickly from competition and injuries.
Rugby players spend most of their time in the gym preparing themselves for what’s to come on the field. Even if an athlete is physically tough and has a big physique, it takes months of strenuous training and practice for it to really make a difference on the field.
In New Zealand, children start training for rugby at the age of 4. Such is the commitment that is dedicated towards training for rugby to develop and optimize handling, running, kicking, tackling, and contact skills.
Lacrosse practices are very different from rugby training.
Lacrosse has a wide range of drills that anyone can practice honing their skills even from the comforts of their own backyard.
These drills are designed to teach a completely different set of skills such as cradling, throwing, scooping, and catching. These are more concentrated on teaching techniques and follow a more methodic approach.
Strength is one of the most key attributes required by rugby athletes to enhance standards of performance and achieve success in their careers.
Players spend hours of their day in the gym trying to gain muscle strength which would give them a competitive edge on the field.
Given the contact element of the sport, strength is known to differentiate players from others in rugby.
Players who aren’t physically strong have to work much harder than their stronger counterparts to deliver the same performance on the field. This is because muscle strength is associated with better tackling abilities and also decreases the risk of injuries significantly.
While being strong certainly has its advantages in lacrosse, it is more important for players to have tremendous flexibility and technique.
In order to maintain an optimum body position, lacrosse athletes need to master the art of balancing their body weight and making swift changes in direction while sprinting and handling the ball in their stick.
Even though there are risks associated with every sport, vigorous training and practice can reduce these risks significantly.
Furthermore, a thorough understanding of these rules, how they’re followed, and the use of equipment can result in making any sport much safer for everyone on the pitch. After all, that’s what the rules are for.
At the end of the day, no sport is tough for someone who trains like he means it.
It’s all subjective and based on what you prefer.
Do you prefer using a stick to tackle your opponents or do you prefer using your hands?
Choose whatever sport appeals to you and the one that interests you the most. And if you can’t decide on one – take up both!
But don’t shy away from working hard for it. Always remember to put your heart and soul into it and you’re good to go.
Which sport do you think is tougher?
Have you played lacrosse or rugby?
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- Akiyama K, Sasaki T, Mashiko M. Elite Male Lacrosse Players’ Match Activity Profile. J Sports Sci Med. 2019;18 (2):290-294. Published 2019 Jun 1.
- McCormack, S., Jones, B. and Till, K. (2020) ‘Training Practices of Academy Rugby League and their Alignment to Physical Qualities Deemed Important for Current and Future Performance’, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 15(4), pp. 512–525. DOI: 10.1177/1747954120924905.