Bath and Wigan contest the clash of the codes

Steve Bale on the historic games which will bring together league and union
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The Independent Online
One hundred years of mutual antipathy will be laid to rest when Bath and Wigan play each other in a two-match series in May - the first in the North under rugby league rules and the second in the South, possibly at Twickenham itself, under union rules.

Such are the consequences of rugby union's new professionalism and the removal of the taint that union has sought to attach to league since the great split of 1895. The practical benefits of playing these matches may be obscure beyond one code being able to claim a spurious superiority over the other, but serious money will be involved when union's five-times English champions take on league's perennial British champions.

Now that the matches - probably on 8 and 25 May - have been confirmed, television can begin the serious bidding. Goodison Park and Maine Road, homes of Everton and Manchester City respectively, were yesterday touted as possible northern venues. Failing Twickenham, Bath have enquired about using Cardiff Arms Park.

"Of course it's a great commercial venture," John Quin, the Bath secretary, said last night. "But over and above that, here is the chance for the leading exponents of both codes to pit their wits against each other. At this stage, I would have thought it was a one-off, or a two-off if you like, to celebrate the coming-together of the two codes."

Although agreement to stage the matches was confirmed by the clubs yesterday, the Rugby Football Union has yet to give formal blessing through its game- regulation committee. But Richard Mawditt, the Bath chairman, has told other club officers he has the verbal approval of Tony Hallett, the RFU secretary.

Wigan received the Rugby Football League's support a while ago and already have won a Twickenham date: the Middlesex Sevens on 11 May.

The prospective date of the second match would necessitate postponement of Wigan's Super League fixture against Sheffield Eagles the following day. In fact, the League has been lukewarm about the venture and when Bath approached the RFU with a view to using Twickenham, they were initially told it would be unavailable due to reseeding.

But the prospect of taking the game to Wales appears to have wrought a change of mind. "When they heard that the Arms Park was being considered," Quin said wryly, "it seems they decided to reallocate their reseeding programme."

Ladbrokes, the bookmakers, reckon the chances of either side being beaten at their own game are remote. Wigan are 1-10 (if you bet pounds 10 you stand to win only pounds 1) to win under league rules, with Bath at 6-1. Bath are the 4-11 favourites to take the union contest, with Wigan at 2-1.