Bath feel full force of Wigan might

CLASH OF THE CODES: Union champions' artless league display is no match for Offiah's onslaught
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Wigan, spearheaded by a double hat-trick of tries from Martin Offiah, were far too fast, powerful and inventive for the best of English rugby union has to offer in the historic first meeting between the leading clubs in the two codes last night.

It was entirely expected that Wigan would win handsomely under their own set of rules. It was the extent of their superiority, even in the aspect of play that the two codes should have in common, that will have surprised even the most pessimistic union diehard.

It might have proved nothing in isolation, but I fancy that the odds against Wigan also winning the return match, under rugby union rules at Twickenham on 25 May, will have narrowed perceptibly.

Wigan did to Bath what they have done to so many opponents from their own game over the years, blitzing them in the opening minutes and reducing the rest of the game to a mis-match.

Bath did not help themselves by making a crass mistake when Jon Callard's kick off failed to make the required 10 metres and, although they managed to keep out the first wave of Wigan attacks, the game was only three minutes old when Martin Offiah took Gary Connolly's inside pass for the first of the six tries that made it a memorable night for the former Rosslyn Park winger.

Rugby union never saw the best of Offiah, but one rugby union team began to last night when a move from the scrum base released him for his second try three minutes later.

Within 23 minutes of the start Henry Paul, Jason Robinson, Terry O'Connor and Andy Johnson had all gone in for further tries, Andrew Farrell and Martin Hall between them had kicked all six goals and Wigan had been able to take advantage of the luxury of bringing off Paul and Farrell, two of their most destructive individuals, for an early breather.

It was indicative of Bath's failure to come to terms with the pace and intensity of the game that their first two ventures into the Wigan half were the result of penalties conceded by Neil Cowie. It was hard to see how they would get there otherwise.

The Richmond-bound Scott Quinnell scored with his first touch after coming on as a substitute. Then came a Craig Murdock try and, just before half time, Offiah's hat-trick after Quinnell's strong break.

Bath, to their credit after the pounding they had taken in the first half, did perform considerably better after the interval, although that may have had something to do with Wigan losing some of their urgency.

In fact, after O'Connor had gone over for the first try of the half, Bath got their only points when Callard ended a period of sustained pressure by darting over and kicking the conversion.

That prompted Shaun Edwards to give his team a furious rollocking behind their try line. The Wigan captain clearly wanted to give Bath nothing and it was his pass that sent in Mick Cassidy as Wigan hit their stride once more. Offiah squeezed in at the corner twice in quick succession before Johnson, Robinson and Offiah yet again completed the rout.

Edwards paid tribute to the fighting spirit of the Bath players. "Their lads never gave in and you have to give them credit," he said. "Lots of teams would have put their heads down after that first half, but full credit to them."

The Bath captain, Phil de Glanville, was full of admiration for Wigan's skills. "They're a fantastic side," he said. "They're so hard to stop with their lines of running, in particular in the pack. They come on at pace.''

It was not real rugby league, but after 101 years it was enjoyable enough as a novelty. Few will regard Bath as entirely safe on union territory in 16 day's time.

Wigan: Radlinski; J Robinson, Tuigamala, Connolly, Offiah; Paul, Edwards; Cowie, Hall, O'Connor, Houghton, Cassidy, Farrell. Substitutes used: Smyth, Murdock, Quinnell, Johnson.

Bath: Lumsden; Sleightholme, De Glanville, Waters, Adebayo; Catt, Callard; Yates, Sanders, Haag, Vander, Ojomoh, A Robinson. Substitutes used: Butland, Redman, McCarthy, Pearce.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).

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