Stunt fails to reveal true state of the union

Steve Bale, Rugby Union Correspondent, on why Bath were badly prepared for last night's mismatch at Maine Road
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So Jeremy Guscott knew exactly what he was doing when he opted out of the Maine Event, as last night's annihilation was billed by the wishful thinkers trying to persuade the rest of us that this was going to be hard-fought as well as historic.

Guscott was happy enough to leave his ill-starred team-mates to it, and whether the match was just a stunt - the England centre's view, as well as that of the rugby league stalwart, Alex Murphy, in yesterday's Manchester Evening News - or real history, the score made it look as if 101 years of cross-code antagonism were being requited over 80 minutes.

Yet a publicity note handed out before the match had curiously suggested that Bath were the ones out for revenge, for defeats the last time the two rugbys were allowed to come together during the war. Don't you believe it; the vengeful spirit was all Wigan's.

Who could have conceived it otherwise? No one at Maine Road - football's theatre of nightmare these days - was in the slightest doubt of the impending result. So much so that in the gents' beforehand, the talk was not of the game but whether Bath was pronounced with a long or short 'a'. "At Twickenham, it's Baaath," said one relieved punter.

The Bath players themselves already knew what was to come. When they played a practice match against the second-string of the new First Division South Wales pro team on Monday, they lost 46-24. We can well imagine what Wigan would do to the likes of South Wales.

It is straw-clutching time. If this persuades Wigan that Bath are a bunch of southern softies, that is all the consolation Bath can take from last night - if only because those of us who regularly watch them know better. This was not the real Bath, not without Guscott anyway.

But then to take on Wigan four days after a gruelling Cup final in which nine of the starting 13 played was always asking too much, and when it is also remembered that they have had just five training sessions dedicated to rugby league - to the rugby league champions, for goodness sake - it does, after all, look like a stunt.

Albeit a pounds 400,000 stunt and, in these professional times, that is compensation of a reasonable kind. You would scarcely say Bath deserved every penny, but what they did deserve was credit for turning up. And that was more than you could say for Jerry Guscott.

It will be instructive to see if he can be persuaded to play in the return under rugby union rules at Twickenham on 25 May if his thigh injury has healed.

Yesterday Bath withdrew from Saturday's Middlesex Sevens, as if they anticipated the onset of exhaustion brought on by the Maine Event. Wigan will be there, though, and look capable of winning. Now that, for rugby union, would be a genuine embarrassment.