Monday 27 May 1996
So what did we learn from the great inter-code challenge, the historical coming-together? That Wigan are probably better than Bath at rugby league than Bath are than Wigan at rugby union. And even that is arguable.
Sorry to sit on the fence about this, but far too much has been read into these occasions - even if we accept that they were something more than a double-headed gimmick with the handy spin-off of up to pounds 500,000 each for clubs who can use every penny.
All the fanciful talk of the eventual emergence of one rugby code, with Maurice Lindsay's estimate of five years now more or less endorsed by Tony Hallett, misses the point that this Twickenham fixture under union laws no less than the 82-6 Maine Road first leg under league rules exposed the differences just as much as the similarities.
The differences - in union's case its rucks, mauls, scrums and line-outs - are good reasons why the codes may not combine, and quite possibly should not, and anyway such an eventuality would need Lindsay and Hallett, Rugby Football League chief executive and Rugby Football Union secretary respectively, to generate a groundswell that goes beyond their own point of view.
You have only to look at the disparaging nonsense that passed as an explanation of rugby union handed out before Saturday's match by the RFL to see that there remains a chasm, though thank goodness it now concerns the relative merits of what happens on the field rather than the baggage of 101 years of mutual animosity.
But even supposing this alternative thesis - that rugby union and rugby league will carry on with their distinct identities - proves correct, the relationship is bound to change as a result of the new and highly significant interchangability we are already seeing. The threat to league of its players' leaving to join union is, after all, unprecedented.
Brian Ashton's mischievous assertion that Bath would fancy any of the Wigan players from one to 15 therefore contained a more serious message than it seemed. And when John Hall added that the club had not yet thought about it but would be interested to see who might become available he did not consider himself to be indulging in idle fantasy.
On the contrary, Bath's coach and manager are realists and though Ashton suggested it had been his side's best performance of the season it also exposed the same relative frailties as had been on view at Maine Road, especially the disparity in fitness which assisted Wigan's full-timers in finishing the game more strongly than Bath.
For 45 minutes or so it had been harder going, however. Without over- indulging in the slow-motion rugby that would have been an ugly means of emasculation, Bath still forced the Wigan pack into predictable disintegration at the scrummage and so monopolised the line-out that Wigan won only a couple all afternoon.
Without the comfort of the play-the-ball Wigan had inordinate difficulty developing continuity in the tackle, and when they did get their hands on it made more handling mistakes under unfamiliar pressures than would have been conceivable in the relative freedom allowed by 13-a-side.
In fact for a while the game had a grotesquely lop-sided appearance as Bath, making an abundance of their own mistakes, built a substantial lead. That the first was a penalty try for a collapsed scrum carried a certain symbolism, but those that followed by Adedayo Adebayo, Jon Sleightholme and Adebayo again were products of attacking rugby that would have been recognisable in either code.
When Mike Catt and Phil de Glanville added further tries early in the second half Wigan appeared poised for an indignity as severe as that suffered by Bath at Maine Road. But as Bath ran out of energy, so Wigan came to better terms with rugby union's technicalities - most notably in the scrums - and they finished with honour not merely intact but enhanced.
Indeed, the two length-of-the-field tries created for Craig Murdock were better than anything Twickenham had witnessed all season. With Va'aiga Tuigamala also scoring and Ian Sanders adding Bath's seventh by the traditionally prosaic means of a pushover, Wigan matched Bath point for point in the second half - and that was an illustrious accomplishment in itself from most welcome visitors.
Bath: Tries Penalty try, Adebayo 2, Sleightholme, Catt, De Glanville, Sanders; Conversions Callard 3; Penalty Callard. Wigan: Tries Murdock 2, Tuigamala; Conversions Farrell 2.
Bath: J Callard; A Lumsden, P de Glanville (capt, J Ewens, 41-46, C Harrison, 73-74), A Adebayo (R Butland, 72), J Sleightholme (J Ewens, 57); M Catt, I Sanders; K Yates, G Dawe (G French, 72), V Ubogu (N McCarthy, 44), M Haag, N Redman, E Pearce, S Ojomoh, A Robinson.
Wigan: K Radlinski (A Craig,75); J Robinson, H Paul, G Connolly, M Offiah; J Lydon (M Cassidy h-t), C Murdock; T O'Connor, M Hall, N Cowie, G West (G Tallec, 49), A Farrell (capt), S Tatupu, S Quinnell (S Haughton, 47), V Tuigamala (A Johnson, 78).
Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).
Dave Hadfield has the Final Word, page 24
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