Jonathan Davies: Robinson's bold move a beautiful one

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The Independent Online

Andy Robinson's intention to take his England squad for a couple of days training with a top rugby league team has staggered traditionalists in the union game, but it shouldn't be a shock to anyone who has studied the relationship between the codes in recent years.

Andy Robinson's intention to take his England squad for a couple of days training with a top rugby league team has staggered traditionalists in the union game, but it shouldn't be a shock to anyone who has studied the relationship between the codes in recent years.

As someone who played both games I have been fascinated, and pleased, to watch the bridges being built since union went professional. The diehards of both games may still hate each other but at the playing level there is far more mutual appreciation of the varying skills involved.

The initial result of this is that the influx of specialist coaches from league to union has led to such a tightening up of defensive organisation that union is in danger of being strangled by defence.

This development of union defences was necessary and desirable but it cannot be left there. The expertise of league men like Phil Larder, Joe Lydon, Mike Ford and Clive Griffiths has made such a difference that it requires a move in the other direction.

Robinson has recognised this and when he takes his men to play a few training games against a top league team in the new year, he will be seeking to measure his defensive structure against a league attack.

In this way he will further strengthen his team's defensive knowledge and also teach them how to break down defences by running at angles and with decoy runners. As a result they should pick up a lot of offensive ploys. In other words - we have learned how to build defensive structures, now we will learn how to destroy them.

It is nonsense to think this move means that the two codes are creeping closer together. The games are still poles apart. Line-outs, rucks and mauls, real scrummages - they'll always ensure they remain different. But they do experience the same sort of problems in certain situations and it makes sense to pick up all the useful know-how you can.

The biggest difference of all between the codes, of course, is that union have four extra men on the pitch and that places a big additional burden on an offensive team.

For a start, it cuts down the space available and then it presents two more players to get past. This makes it all the more essential to get quick ball and where league and union are similar is at the play-the-ball and the ruck.

In league, if you can get quick possession from a play-the-ball while there are defenders still on the floor you immediately outnumber them if you are quick enough. It is the same with rucks in union - rapid service from them tends to leave the defending team short of numbers at your point of attack.

Experiencing at first hand the speed at which league players work will be invaluable to the England players. Coaches can tell you about it but there's nothing better than having the real top practitioners against you.

It is a bold move by Robinson and reveals his urgency to get to grips with the development he is looking for. He would have learned his respect for league and to be open to their ideas when playing for Bath, who were always keen to learn league. They played the first cross-code challenge matches against Wigan is 1996 and quickly recruited Jason Robinson and Henry Paul when the passage between the games was opened.

I am delighted to see the codes mixing like this. It seems odd, but I am seeing more of both now than when I was playing and my understanding of them is actually increasing.

There is no doubt that the quality of league and union in skill, tactical awareness and fitness has gone up in leaps and bounds. And the standard I have seen from league recently has been extremely high. Players like Paul Sculthorpe, Andy Farrell, Darren Lockyer and Sonny Bill Williams can be justly compared to Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Martin Johnson for quality contributions.

The current Tri-Nations event is a fantastic opportunity for the league stars to display their talents. I am glad that the highlights are being shown on BBC. Not that I have anything against Sky but they do deserve a bigger audience.

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