Bath may have to bore to win

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Having pilloried Leicester for the way they played the last time Bath were at Twickenham, English rugby union's double-winners will be hoist with their own petard if they try to dismantle Wigan by similar means in this afternoon's challenge match at Twickenham.

Mind you, 82-6 - the score when the 13-a-side champions annihilated Bath under rugby league rules 17 days ago - requires an awful lot of revenge and there is no way Bath will simply abandon those facets of union which league folk tend to treat with disdain and distaste.

So we can anticipate an early attempt to take the strength out of the Wigan forwards, unused as they are to scrummaging, rucking and mauling, before Bath try to do what they are best at: a rugby of motion and not, Leicester-fashion, slow motion.

At least, they better had. "I know winning is important but if it's only going to come down to scrum, ruck and maul we should give all the money back," Maurice Lindsay, chief executive of the Rugby Football League, said. "It would be a shame for the supporters because it's boring and crude."

Even accepting that crudity is in the eye of the beholder, Bath can but agree. As he has been reminded this week, after his side had eked out their cup-final victory John Hall, the Bath manager, said it would have been a "disaster" if Leicester had won because to win so much possession but do so little with it was "criminal".

Paradoxically, if Bath were to do the same today, it would be their best guarantee of a conclusive - though scarcely handsome - win. But in the inter-code comparison rugby union would then be massively the loser. "We are very open to criticism if we do that but we have to use what advantages we have," Hall said.

This applies particularly in the ball-winning phases, though hardly when it comes to ball-using. Wigan have a threequarter line any rugby union coach would die for and if they are permitted anything like the room they have in rugby league Bath are bound to be in difficulty, as the Middlesex Sevens so tellingly revealed a fortnight ago.

"It's a bit of a step into the unknown, especially when they get possession of the ball," Brian Ashton, the Wiganer who coaches Bath, said. "It will be interesting to see whether their rugby league style can adapt to the reduced time and space available in rugby union."

As for getting the ball in the first place, Wigan, who have been staying at the hotel in Bagshot patronised by the All Blacks the last time they were here, were given a session at Ruislip Rugby Club last night by the former Rosslyn Park captain Phil Keith-Roach, England's premier scrummaging coach.

Also present was the Ruislip coach, Bob Mordell, who was a rugby league professional with Oldham, and a London referee, Tim Miller, who sought to give the Wigan players an insight into the thinking of today's referee, Brian Campsall, a Yorkshireman who happens to be well-versed in both codes.

Today's crowd will approach Twickenham's restricted capacity of 50,000 and it is noteworthy in itself that the game is taking place at HQ after the obstacles the Rugby Football Union initially placed in its way.

When they had their bright idea Bath were told they could not have the ground because the turf needed reseeding but once it became clear that a historic occasion could pass to Cardiff Arms Park the RFU suddenly decided the reseeding could wait.

Bath will not, however, be granted the privilege of using the warm-up facilities normally used by England but as Save & Prosper, which sponsors all the Twickenham internationals, has also lent its name to Bath v Wigan, we can suppose that after all it has the official seal of approval.


at Twickenham

J Callard 16/15 K Radlinski

A Lumsden 15/14 J Robinson

P de Glanville (capt) 14/13 H Paul

A Adebayo 12 G Connolly

J Sleightholme 11 M Offiah

M Catt 10 J Lydon

I Sanders 9 C Murdock

K Yates 1 T O'Connor

G Dawe 2 M Hall

V Ubogu 3 N Cowie

M Haag 4 G West

N Redman 5 A Farrell (capt)

A Robinson 6 S Tatupu

S Ojomoh 8 S Quinnell

E Pearce 7 V Tuigamala

Referee: Brian Campsall (Halifax). Kick-off: 3.0 (Sky Sports)