What Is Rugby Called In America? (Explained)

Rugby has several names in America that are less heard elsewhere. You will hear rugby called rugby, but you may hear these other names amongst fans in the United States:

  • Rugger
  • Fifteens
  • Union
  • Egg Ball

Let’s run through these names and their backgrounds.

Why Rugby Is Called Rugger In America

American rugby fans will use rugger for both the sport and to refer to the players.

I ran a search on one of the popular social media forums and found plenty of references.

Rugger for rugby

This picture shows a Google result on the top page with a thread title of “American rugger”.

Here is a quote from a guy who was chatting about playing rugby again after a few years away from the game:

Decided I was sick of playing soccer and wanted to get some rugger under my belt before I was too old.

Reddit poster

Here is the title of a forum thread about a match between a visiting international team and Canada (who of course are in the Americas).

Canada vs Maori All Blacks. Great day for some rugger!

Reddit thread title

Rugger for rugby players

Rugger is probably more commonly used to refer to rugby players in the United States and Canada.

A regional newspaper in Washington, the intrepid Tukwila Reporter, ran a story on the Seawolves’ opening match in Seattle.

Their title was “Ruggers are ready to rock”.

And when I jump back to social media, I see a young American rugby player asking the forum users how they discovered rugby.

He uses “rugby” to refer to the sport, but “ruggers” to refer to the players.

Where did the term “rugger” come from?

We know that schoolboys in England were using the term “rugger” over a hundred years ago.

In the late 19th century, English schoolboys played several types of ball sports. One was known as association football, and another was known as rugby football.

The boys shortened the names to “soccer” for association football and “rugger” for rugby football.

As we’ll get into later, “rugger” is still used for the sport in England. However, it’s rarely used to refer to players.

So, it may be that the term came into use independently in the United States when the sport was first played in the Ivy League universities.

After all, “football players” are naturally called footballers. It makes sense for “rugby players” to be contracted in the same way as ruggers.

Why Do Some Complain About How Americans Use “Rugger”?

When I searched through social media firms for usage of rugger, I saw plenty of threads complaining about the word.

Here are a couple of thread titles:

  • Can we lose the term “rugger”?
  • Is rugger an exclusively American word? Because it annoys the heck out of me.

The second title may seem polite, but I inserted the word “heck” for what was originally there.

The posters are usually English. Their distaste really has nothing to do with Americans and has more to do with how the term is used now in England.

There, it’s more often used by people who perceive the sport as being upper-class and elitist. It’s meant to be pejorative i.e. poking fun at rugby fans.

I’m Irish and it’s used in Ireland in this pejorative way too.

But I say that fans and players should use whatever term they like for the sport that they love. Who cares if some lads across the pond don’t like the term? That’s not your problem!

Saying “Fifteens” For Rugby

There are two popular versions of rugby played in the United States. One version is played with fifteen players on the pitch. The other version is played with seven.

Fans often use “Sevens” to refer to the seven-player sport. That leaves us with “Fifteens” for the larger squads.

Fifteens will be commonly heard in rugby clubs that play both sports.

Like a weary dad saying: “my eldest is playing fifteens on Saturday, and my youngest is on the sevens team”.

Saying “Union” For Rugby

We mentioned fifteens and sevens rugby in the previous section. Both versions are governed by the same authority, World Rugby.

There is another version of rugby that is popular in some parts of the world. However, it comes in a distant third in terms of visibility in the United States.

This sport is Rugby League, and it has a separate governing body.

Back in 19th century England, schools and sports clubs played a variety of football sports under the general name of Football.

The first naming split in the rugby world

From the 1870s, there was a general split of rules and codes into two organizations.

One organization was Association Football. As I mentioned before, schoolboys gave this the nickname of soccer.

The second organization was the Rugby Football Union.

The second naming split in the rugby world

The next split was on the grounds of whether players could be paid or not.

Those who wanted the sport kept amateur stayed with the Rugby Football Union.

Those who wanted players to be paid created a separate code called Rugby League.

Rugby League is often shortened to “league”.

And here comes Union

Rugby Football Union was shortened to any of

  • Rugby
  • Rugby football
  • Union

In places where Rugby League and Rugby Union are played, local fans will use the terms “League” and “Union” to distinguish between competitions.

Egg Ball or Egg-ball in America

Egg ball is an affectionate term that refers to the shape of a rugby ball.

The players are also referred to as egg chasers.

The picture above is the title from an article on the launch of an Xbox rugby game that refers to a “new Egg Ball game”.

What About Elsewhere?

Check out these articles: