Bath will feel the benefit
Jonathan Davies says that union can learn most from a worthwhile exercise
Sunday 26 May 1996
I don't agree that these meetings have been pointless. We've seen the best rugby teams in the country exercising their democratic right to play games which had previously been barred to them. No doubt Wigan will have a healthier regard for the difficulties of playing union but overall I think Bath will have learned the more valuable lesson from the two games - the value of fitness, strength and pace.
The way we've been playing union in Britain has not been beneficial to us on the world stage and, perhaps, now we've seen at close hand what professionalism can do, we can expect an improvement. The Australians for years have realised that they have much to learn from the other code. It is no surprise, therefore, that they've been world champions at both.
What came across most powerfully yesterday was that the match was far faster than union is normally in this country. The crowd loved it and Bath were 20 points up in 27 minutes. But the final margin was only 25 points. You can put that down to Wigan's superior fitness.
There were times in the first half when Bath's only problem was having so much ball they didn't know what to do next. It was like touch rugby. The game was so quick that Bath were tired out by their own superiority.
Wigan discovered one of the problems that I've encountered since my return to union. The defence is totally different and you are constantly surprised. Joe Lydon thought he was through just before half-time but found two defenders coming from nowhere. What a difference two extra players can make.
In that first half Wigan found possession very hard to win when it is not handed over every six tackles - and when you do get it the picture is not the same. Gary Connolly got into some great positions but found himself isolated with no clue what to do next. Wigan were constantly infringing rules they didn't know existed and their fans were upset when Connolly was denied a try for a forward pass that was "flat ball" and would have been given in league.
At least Wigan showed in those 10 minutes before the interval that they could play a part if they could get their hands on the ball. When their first try came, it was from a move much more familiar to them. A break from behind his own line led to Radlinski setting it up for Paul to put away Martin Offiah. He sucked in two defenders before sending Murdock over.
Where Bath were always able to gain the upper hand was in setting up second-phase ball. It didn't matter when they got tackled, they just drove over and ran again. It just served to show how totally different the games are to each other. But learning is a great thing and I hope these interesting matches won't be forgotten.
Andy Robinson was a good choice as man of the match but my hero was Va'aiga Tuigamala. What a rugby player he is in anyone's language.
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