Bath 44 Wigan 19
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
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).