Sunday, September 30, 2007

League v Union - only one winner

I actually watched my first Rugby Union World Cup game, Wales v Fiji, on Saturday and found it quite entertaining, with more running and passing and less kicking away of possession than most Union games I have seen. I suppose it is not really right to compare League and Union as they are different sports, even if they emerged from the same roots, but what struck me was how slow the game was and the lack of physical intensity compared to League at its best. And this weekend it was certainly at its best. Hull v Wigan on Saturday night was a thriller but nothing could cap Saint Helens v Leeds for speed, skill and brutal tackling. It was awesome. I am sorry Union fans (especially Hak Mao), but for sheer spectacle and raw athleticism nothing can beat League. I am still breathless contemplating it. Roll on the Grand Final - my tickets are in the post.


unaha-closp said...

Fiji and Wales are okay, but neither are likely to get within 40 points of the worlds best. They make too many mistakes and play too slow. For fairness should compare with a Salford v. Harlequins match.

Will said...

You're just picking fights for the sake of it now.

Well done.

hakmao said...

That's because you've been watching the wrong Union. Wales can be okay to watch, but the other 'home nations' do not play attractive rugby. France are more interesting, but for Union as it should be played (ie without all that incessant kicking for touch), you want New Zealand, (or I hate to admit) Australia, or one of the Pacific Island teams.

The Plump said...

You're just picking fights for the sake of it now.

Yep. Two irate Kiwis. Job done :-)

unaha-closp said...

PS - comparing apples to apples.

The Storm have won the Grand Final in an intense game, featuring compressed & rushing defensive patterns that take advantage of the mobility and fitness of players at the top of the game.

And now that the season is over a few of the elder players (including Grand Finalists Matt King, Chris Hicks and Michael Monaghon) are moving into semi-retirement, southern fans wish them all the best and hope they enjoy their time in the antipodes.

mikeovswinton in the northern union said...

Keep sticking that stick in the nest Peter.

hakmao said...

comparing apples to apples

I don't like apples ...

And mikeovswinton in the northern union, don't poke the tuatara, it may look fossilised, but it has a powerful and nasty bite.

mikeovswinton still in the Northern Union said...

Didn't Tuatara play stand off half for Swinton in the early 80s, Peter? Or was that Wayne Rutene? Actually over the years we had a few decent Kiwis in the Blue jersey.

Peter Risdon said...

This idea that Union lacks the speed and physical intensity of League is really odd. Look at the way Farrell is struggling to compete in Union. It's an idea that dates back to the time when League was professional and Union amateur, with entirely predictable consequences. A comparison of amateur League with pro League would give the same result.

Followers of the less popular code have to find their consolation elsewhere, I'm afraid.

The Plump said...


Farrell is 32, has been injured two years and was signed crocked. He hadn't played all season before he switched. Union spent a fortune on a great player past his best and injured who has hardly played. Great bit of business.

Jason Robinson was bought at his peak - not quite the same result eh?

Players struggle when they switch codes (both ways)because the sports are very different. If you want to know about physical demands of league, look at the tackle counts.

In the days when Union was 'amateur' (i.e. paid under the counter) League players were part-time professional so they were comparable. They did a hard day's graft and then trained three nights a week after work. It was only the Sky money that enabled the sport to be full-time and that was only shortly before Union became professional.

As for the 'less popular code' - it certainly isn't up here. Union struggles north of the Ship Canal and league has a much bigger following. It is a regional sport - but it is growing and spreading, watch out. :-)

Peter Risdon said...

For goodness sake, Farrell's age and injury record are not unique in Union, nor indeed in the World Cup. His pace has never been up to the Union backs standard and his strength and scrummaging aren't up to pack play. Robinson is a sprinter.

The bigger pitches and more flowing play means impacts are at much higher velocities in Union than League.

Union became semi pro in the 1980s but was entirely amateur when your attitudes were formed, prior to then. By the 80's, League was neither faster nor harder than Union, and Union players crossed over effortlessly.

Rule changes since then have made Union surpass League for speed and continuity. Indeed, the constant stopping and resetting of League seems to a Union fan to make any continuity of play vanishingly rare.

The influence of League on Union has been wholly good and with the exception of Will Carling's "old farts" - the blazered tossers who ran Union and who should have been dragged out and shot - Union people have always shown League the respect it deserves.

To the extent that this is not reciprocated, it is League that is diminished.

The Plump said...

His pace has never been up to the Union backs standard and his strength and scrummaging aren't up to pack play.

He was a forward not a back and was never the quickest, by the time he signed he had slowed as a result of age and injury. Although he stood in at stand off, it was as a ball distributor rather than a runner. Forwards rarely convert successfully in either direction. League now has mainly uncontested scrums, no lineouts and no rucks and mauls, so unless players switch early they are no good at winning possession. In League a forward has to be able to run with the ball and pass (Farrell's strength was his long cut-out passes and vision - and the angles of the runs are different in Union too). Second rows have to be as quick and powerful as centres as they run out wide. Hookers play a highly specialised role in ball distribution and running from dummy half. Injured 30 year olds cannot switch. There have been plenty of embarrassments going the other way.

The bigger pitches

Since when have we played on smaller pitches? Bigger in-goal areas I will give you.

the constant stopping and resetting of League seems to a Union fan to make any continuity of play vanishingly rare.

League is non-stop. The play-the-ball was introduced to get the ball back in play as quickly as possible. Since full professionalism in the late 90's league has speeded up even more. This is down to different watching habits. League fans see rucks and mauls as interruptions in play rather than part of it. There seem to be too many set plays in Union to a League fan.

And as for impacts - did you watch Saints v Leeds? (or any State of Origin games down under for that matter).

and Union players crossed over effortlessly.

When Jonathan Davies switched he had his medical and was asked to remove his shirt, the fitness coaches laughed at his physique, it took him about a year to get up to fitness. Tuigimala said that he used to wake up crying with pain after the training regime, to get him up to standard they had him running up and down Rivington Pike. He is on record as saying he didn't think he would make it. John Gallagher failed to convert due to the physical demands at Leeds. The ones that came over successfully were in the minority. The Welsh contingent at Widnes was possibly the most successful model. There were no easy transitions.

Now the movement is mainly the other way as the wealthy Unions try and cherry pick players and offer them big money. They mainly get it wrong! Farrell is the perfect example.

the blazered tossers who ran Union and who should have been dragged out and shot

Something on which all League and Union fans can happily agree.

To the extent that this is not reciprocated, it is League that is diminished.

It is hard not to resent people who persecuted you for 100 years until they finally realised their folly. We are not all Nelson Mandelas you know.

Did you see my earlier post?

class is permanent

This is the interesting aspect of the debate. This isn't something about sporting preference but is locked into a long history of social conflict. Most historians see sport as marginal to social history. I see it as central to many aspects of it. This is what makes debates between League and Union great fun and still alive. Otherwise it would simply come down to football v rugby v cricket - an issue of personal preference.

ian said...

When Union was professionalised, there were two games between I think Bath and a league team the name of which escapes me. At the time, the professionalism showed. Under Union rules, the League team won pretty easily, while under League rules Bath were hammered. The speed and strength of the League player really showed. I suspect however that such a game would now be much closer.

The Plump said...

Actually Ian, it was Wigan and Bath and Bath did win the match under Union rules.

At the time Wigan was winning everything and were the only fully professional side (for the first team). Wigan won the game under league rules by over 80 points with embarrassing ease. They took off the best players early and then eased up otherwise the result would have been unbelievable.

Bath won the Union match, though it was much closer. Wigan might even have won but they weakened their side as the coach, Graham West, picked himself because of the need for heigh at the lineout and Joe Lydon came out of retirement to play, though he had lost pace and missed a couple of chances. However, Wigan were also very sympathetically refereed, as there could have been streams of penalties for Bath for technical offences. The moment of the match though was Offiah's length of the field try for Wigan.

The real wake up call for Union was the invitation to League sides to participate in sevens competitions, which they all promptly won. Including lowly Bramley winning a Yorkshire sevens!

This finished when the Aussies rejected the Wigan side for the Sydney sevens as being too weak - that was because they included Jason Robinson instead of Offiah. It was appalling as everyone in League knew he was special.

Today I think that League teams would be hammered at Union, fitness is better and all the league coaches in Union have improved defence. League forwards would be unable to win possession even if League probably still has the edge in backs.

Union teams would be just as heavily defeated at league. Smaller more mobile Rugby League forwards would run the pack around and open up the gaps.

Though gaps in fitness have been closed and rule changes have made Union more attractive to watch, I think the games have moved farther apart as sports rather than have come closer together.

And I still prefer League.

Ian said...

So do I as it happens if forced to choose, although overall I am a football fan first! I remember Offiah's run though. It was a bit like watching Eusebio in the match between Portugal and North Korea in the 1966 World Cup.

mikeovswinton having a bit of a Max Boyce moment said...

North Korea- Portugal. I was there. Shame Pak Doo Ik (that's from memory) and the lads ran out of gas. The North Korean bench started throwing ice cubes to their players for them to suck. Virtually the entire ground was behind Kim's men, probably because if they won they would have played England in the semis. Its quite weird to watch this on those great sporting moments things on the box, and think "I was there".