For years now there has been a distinction between rugby league and union players not just relating to the different rules the athletes abide by but also the type of boots they wear. When watching an NRL match you may have noticed that most players opt for plastic moulded studs, while their union cousins are much more fond of metal studs. It is time to find out why exactly that is.
Can NRL players wear metal studs?
NRL players can wear metal studs however they must not be sharp and there must not be a single toe stud. Referees will inspect players’ boots to ensure the studs are not dangerous. Metal studs are rare in the NRL as they are heavier and slow players down, plastic studs are much more popular.
Very few NRL players wear metal studs or metal tipped studs. Even though they are unpopular it is not illegal for rugby league players to wear them.
Rugby league players do not need as much grip as rugby union players because of the absence of contested scrums, rucks and mauls. Therefore NRL players opt for plastic studs as they provide suitable grip for the rigours of rugby league but are significantly lighter than metal studs allowing players to be quicker and more agile.
NRL players are always on the lookout for lightweight boots that can help them shave time off their sprints and increase their acceleration. Plastic and moulded studs are always going to be lighter than metal studs so it is unlikely we will ever see many players switching their studs.
Even when the weather is terrible and the ground is soaked plastic studs appear to give NRL players enough grip and stability to play to their full potential. So there is no benefit for rugby league players to switch their studs as their plastic ones allow them to run faster, accelerate quicker and provide enough support.
In contrast to rugby league players a large percentage of rugby union players wear metal studs. Rugby union players need more grip than rugby league players because of contested scrums, mauls and rucks. If a player loses their footing during a ruck or scrum not only can it be dangerous they also risk giving away a penalty which can drastically alter the course of a match.
If you have ever tried to scrummage on a muddy pitch you will quickly realise how important grip is and the impossible task of trying to maintain your footing without metal studs. If a front row forward loses his footing the whole scrum risks collapsing which can result in some serious neck injuries and the side who initially lost their balance will be promptly penalised.
The same situation arises during rucks and at the breakdown. Players must maintain their feet and support their own body weight when they are cleaning out or trying to steal the ball. Failure to support your own body weight will result in a penalty against the offending party.
Maintaining proper body positioning at the ruck and breakdown is incredibly hard if your boots are not giving you enough grip. Rugby players need all the support they can handle to ensure they don’t slip and fall over when competing at the breakdown.
To ensure rugby union players are effective at scrum time and during rucks and mauls players need a huge amount of grip to prevent them from losing their footing. Moulded plastic studs just do not provide the support required during these phases of play especially if players are competing on a wet or muddy pitch.
However, in recent years more and more rugby union players are taking inspiration from their NRL cousins and switching out their studs for plastic ones. The phases of the play mentioned above (scrum, ruck, maul) are for the most part the domain of the forwards.
The backs are not involved in scrums and play a limited role at the breakdown. The backs are focused on showcasing their speed and agility by making line breaks and galloping down the sideline to score long range tries. Due to this, backs like their rugby league cousins are looking for lightweight boots that can enhance their speed and are willing to sacrifice some grip in the process.
Nowadays the majority of the backline in rugby union wear plastic studs just like you find in the NRL. It is only amongst forwards that metal studs are still widely worn. Even some of the loose forwards are beginning to switch their studs and choose the lightweight plastic ones over the traditional metal studs. However, it is unlikely we will ever see locks and front row forwards wearing plastic studs due to their critical need for grip at scrum time.
Metal studs are hardly worn by NRL players. Instead rugby league athletes prefer to wear plastic moulded studs. Even though they are unpopular in the NRL it is not illegal for athletes to wear metal studs. It is unlikely that many NRL players will ever wear metal studs because they are much heavier than plastic studs which slows the athletes down.
Metal studs are popular in rugby union as the players particularly the forwards require more grip than their league counterparts due to the presence of contested scrums and rucks. However, even in rugby union amongst backs metal studs have gone out of fashion with many modern players choosing to wear plastic moulded studs.