Monday, February 20, 2006

A New Code for Rugby in London

Last Saturday I caught some of the drawn rugby league Super League contest between Bradford Bulls and Harlequins RL. This was the second match for the new London rugby league franchise, and the latest attempt to establish the 13 man game in the capital.

Rather like when FIFA granted the football World Cup to the USA in an attempt to spread the game to a previously uninterested constituency, not everyone in rugby league, outwith the game's governing body, is convinced by the persistent efforts to popularise the game down south. Many would rather see the expenditure on the sport in London, and indeed the city's Super League slot, given to smaller clubs in the game's northern heartland.

The most striking thing about the new London club is the fact that it is a full collaboration between the the two rugby codes, with the union and league outfits sharing Harlequins traditional home at the Stoop and both wearing the famous Quins multi-hued strip. Indeed the league team even took three of their union counterparts on their pre-season training trip to the south of France.

Both sides have been thus far positively ecumenical in their sentiments; Dean Richards, the union team's director of rugby said “Whilst the two sports are of course very different, there are a number of skills that are transferable....It has been so refreshing to have another sport to train alongside. So far, I think both codes have benefited greatly from our relationship”, while his league counterpart Tony Rea agreed:"There are lots of good athletes in the union squad and we have been very impressed with the way things are going".

This is all a far cry from the historical rivalry between the codes which began in 1895 when the Northern Rugby Union was formed in the George Hotel in Huddersfield in response to the Rugby Football Union's continued refusal to allow compensation be paid to players for time off work due to rugby commitments("broken-time payments"). This affected the clubs in the working class north whose players therefore could not afford to take time off work in order to play.

The RFU had seen how professionalism had affected Association Football as working-class clubs came to dominate the game in its early years and were determined to prevent such a power shift in rugby, with one contemporary quote - "if they can't afford to play, they should go without the game" - illustrating the attitude of the southern gentlemen of union. A split was therefore inevitable and the two codes' histories continued to be played out against vastly different social backdrops.

There is something a little Darwinian about the development of the two codes thereafter, in the way they both evolved differently to suit their environments. League reduced the number of players, eliminated the emphasis on set-pieces like line out and scrum, and abandoned rucking, all in an attempt to make the sport more exciting to spectators. The economic imperative of running a professional sport meaning that league was focussed on the entertainment factor long before the whistles and bells of the Super League. Union on the other hand remained, while not exactly refined, more tactically complex and less visceral, not requiring the same mass appeal in order to survive.

Despite the London efforts, and the recent popularity of league defensive systems in union, the battles lines drawn in the George Hotel in 1895 remain in place, with an English person's affinity largely decided by geographical location and social status, leaving the neutral to appreciate league's crash-bang-wallop on one hand, and union's stouter virtues on the other.


Anonymous Dunner said...

Of interest to TSA may be the fact that since the Harlequins RFL club was set up as a successor to the now defunct London Broncos the club has gained financially and in terms of it's fan base. The location at The Stoop has meant that they have been able to sell duel code season tickets numbering above 8000 in a 12000 capacity ground. This represents a trebling of last season ST sales as the Broncos. They have also sold out there first three games. RL in London now has a proper home and proper identity.

5:45 p.m.  
Anonymous Rugby League Betting said...

Rugby league needs spreading out more in my opinion! Im a massive Wildcats fan and when i moved to northampton there was never a league game on and never anyone to debate any games that were on!

1:34 p.m.  
Anonymous online sports betting said...

The opening round of Six Nations fixtures certainly didn’t disappoint. We had a tense thriller (Ireland 16 – 11 Italy), a shocking upset (England 19 – 26 Wales) - which must have cost the bookies in Wales a few quid, seen as though the Welsh were massive underdogs and not to mention the Taffies like a bit of Rugby Betting UK. Then there were the brave Scots; who went down 27-6 to France. So many parts of Scotland’s game were working well and all three of the French tries came from schoolboy errors by the Scots... I hope their confidence is still in tact because they actually played really well.

5:05 p.m.  

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