The union empire strikes back

Bath 44 Wigan 19
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The Independent Online
Different games after all, then, but relations are certainly strengthening after a separation of more than a century. Bath and Wigan, undisputed champions of their respective codes, completed their unique double-header at Twickenham yesterday, and once again it was a clear case of men against boys. But if Wigan are seeking a replacement for Wembley as their second home in the capital, then Twickenham is set to fit the bill.

After Bath's predictable victory, the Rugby Football Union secretary, Tony Hallett, indicated that Twickenham would be available to host next season's Rugby League Challenge Cup Final if Wembley proves, as suspected, to be unavailable.

"I would rather see the rugby league final played at Twickenham from a personal point of view," he said. "In fact, to host the final would be a privilege." His view was immediately supported by the Wigan coach, Joe Lydon, who said: "We really enjoyed this occasion and also our day at the Middlesex Sevens. We would be only too happy to play our knock- out final here."

Maurice Lindsay, the chief executive of the Rugby League, went further, saying: "The games this month have highlighted the big differences that exist, but it's difficult not to imagine that the codes will come closer together over the next five years and that one code will be in existence at the end of that period."

Not that Wigan's supporters returned home yesterday with their views on league supremacy other than reinforced. They had watched their heroes play a foreign game against the best in the union stable and succeed in keeping the score well within the bounds of respectability.

What was more, Craig Murdock and Va'aiga Tuigamala ran in three long- range tries between them to remind their opponents of the timeless values of the 13-man version - pace, power, individual brilliance and supreme fitness. Yet Bath, stung by their 80-point drubbing in the league encounter at Maine Road, had this won inside a quarter of an hour and, had they not lost key personnel to injury after the break, would certainly have cruised past the 50-point mark.

Inevitably, given their set-piece problems, Wigan conceded an early penalty try. Adedayo Adebayo, a startling success at centre for Bath, scored twice in the opening exchanges and there was a dynamic strike from the England wing Jon Sleightholme, who not only broke Jason Robinson's tackle but outpaced him en route to the corner. "A lot quicker than it looks from the sidelines, this union business," admitted Murdock afterwards.

For the second time this month, two sets of supporters punch-drunk on success gathered in the name of sporting one- upmanship. The 16 tries rattled up by Wigan in the league confrontation and their subsequent first-attempt victory in the Middlesex Sevens gave them every reason to feel smugly expectant, but that did not soften the impact of the Twickenham culture shock on rugby folk more used to pies and pints than smoked salmon and Chablis. After sidestepping their way through the old-school ties, Wigan's followers had to contend with legions of West Countrymen who already regard Twickenham as their second home. And that, of course, gave Wigan an inkling of the real culture shock waiting for them out there on the pitch.

Jon Callard's kick-off was recycled by Martin Haag and the Bath forwards smashed back their opponents in ruck after ruck, maul after maul, drive after drive. Only an outbreak of butterfingers at the crucial moment saved the underdogs from instant embarrassment. Wigan's front row, well versed in the daylight activities of running and passing but utterly ignorant of the dark deeds associated with a full-scale set scrum, were not only driven off their own ball but were very nearly propelled clean into Richmond High Street. When Adebayo caught the opposition midfield offside, Callard chipped over a simple penalty. All that inside three minutes.

As Steve Ojomoh had predicted in true Corporal Jones style, the Wigan forwards did not like it up 'em. Graham Dawe got under the enemy's skin to such an extent that Andy Farrell aimed a punch at him in front of the referee, Brian Campsall. Yet for all the commitment, there was no further animosity apart from a front-row spat between Kevin Yates and Neil Cowie.

At the break, 25 points adrift, Wigan faced a humiliation every bit as comprehensive as the one they had inflicted in Manchester. But Bath, aware the job had been completed, then opted for a more expansive approach and gave Wigan's thoroughbreds the room they needed to show the 42,000 crowd a tantalising glimpse of their incredible talents.

Bath: J Callard; A Lumsden, P de Glanville (capt), A Adebayo (R Buitland, 71), 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, A Robinson, S Ojomoh.

Wigan: K Radlinski (A Craig, 76); J Robinson, H Paul, G Connolly, M Offiah; J Lydon (M Cassidy, 41), C Murdock; N Cowie, M Hall, T O'Connor, A Farrell, G West, V Tuigamala, S Tatupu, S Quinnell (S Haughton, 47; G Tallec, 48).

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

Jonathan Davies, page 30