Wigan desperate to prove a point

CLASH OF THE CODES: Bath may run into all sorts of problems for tonight's match. Dave Hadfield reports
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The Independent Online
Any notion that Wigan will be approaching tonight's meeting with Bath in any less serious mood than if they were playing a rugby league team would be dispelled by a couple of minutes in the company of Shaun Edwards.

The Wigan captain does not believe in making any allowances for inexperience. If Bath struggle to come to terms with the pace and physical intensity of the game at Maine Road tonight, it is their hard luck and they - plus the spectators hoping for a meaningful contest - who will pay the price.

"A lot will come down to how strictly it is refereed," he said, firmly putting the match official, Russell Smith, on the spot. "We are not in the business of feeling sorry for anybody. I'm sure that when we play rugby league we will get penalised if we get on the wrong side of the rules and it should be the same for them.''

Edwards, like the patrons of the Popular Stand at Central Park, is, in effect, shouting "Gerrem onside". It is simply making the 10 metres back into the defensive line after every tackle that will be Bath's first and most insoluble problem.

Despite playing for England as a schoolboy in rugby union, Edwards is a league man to his bootlaces, not afraid to use words like bigotry and class when he analyses the tortured relations between the two codes.

"We can prove a lot of things at Maine Road," he said. "We are going to treat it like a semi-final of the Cup. If Bath happened to beat us, or even do well, we would never hear the last of it.''

Putting on a good show for an expected 30,000 crowd with affiliations to both codes does not enter into it. Edwards wants to crush them.

All the sensible money is on him and his team-mates doing just that. The old assurance and strength in depth might not be quite what they were, and these matches against Bath might be primarily a way of balancing the books after their failure to reach Wembley, but Wigan will still field a team capable of running riot against all but the most clued-up opposition.

Martin Offiah will be back after injury on the left wing, with Va'aiga Tuigamala - whose transformation from a big fellow who used to wait for the ball to come to him into a one-man stampede sums up the differences between the codes - at centre. It is on a third rugby union convert, however, that most interest will be concentrated. Scott Quinnell will continue to play for Wigan despite signing up to join Richmond at the end of the season, and there could be no better setting than this to show why he will be badly missed from Central Park when he goes.

As the Wigan coach, Graeme West, has ruefully observed, a lot of work has been put into making Quinnell a good league forward - and that work has not been wasted.

There have been times this season when he has looked by far the most likely member of the Wigan pack to break tackles, and he is set to show tonight that he will be going back to union a far better player than he left.

Throw in the fact that Bath will never have seen anything like the elusive side-stepping of Henry Paul and it becomes a question of how many Wigan will score. Some bookmakers have been offering excessively generous odds against Wigan scoring 50, something they could live to regret.

It is not a case of Wigan underestimating Bath. "I saw them against Orrell," Edwards said, "and they were awesome - at union.''

Tonight they will discover the harsh truth that excelling in one code does not equip you to play the other. The more intriguing question is whether Wigan will be able to defy that logic when the positions are reversed at Twickenham.


Maine Road, Manchester

Radlinski 1 Lumsden

J Robinson 2 Sleightholme

Tuigamala 3 capt De Glanville

Connolly 4 Waters

Offiah 5 Adebeyo

Paul 6 Catt

Edwards capt 7 Callard

Cowie 8 Yates

Hall 9 Sanders

O'Connor 10 Vander

Quinnell 11 Haag

Cassidy 12 Ojomoh

Farrell 13 A Robinson

Referee: R Smith (Castleford) Kick-off: 8.0