"rugby is played by blokes equipped with nothing much more than a strip of insulating tape around their ears"
Eh, you're being rather unfair here.
I've played social rugby and American Football, in the UK and NZ.
My social gridiron kit cost exactly the same as my social rugby kit: nowt, sponsored by the local gamblers. Most of the gridiron players had $20-$50 boots, Lycra shorts and cheap cotton underkit. The social rugby team spent roughly twice the amount on their boots, and high-tech sports clothing under their uniforms. Also seen front row head gear that cost more than a gridiron helmet (!?!) so it's perfectly possible to spend silly on either game.
The pick up games (touch) also involved the total cost being a ball. Whichever one we played with :)
I'll also note that while there were a lot of lifters on each team, there were many more juicers in rugby than gridiron. Even at super casual levels. Apparently even happening at schoolboy levels.
"No recreational activity allowed unless it involves lots of expensive equipment."
Nah, it's just another way of displaying your Veblan goods. It's the same way that you can go to gym in old shorts, t-shirt and plimsolls. Or spend hundreds on cool/useful kit, that looks nice and expensive :)