By Alan Dymock
BIZARRE THOUGH it may seem, but if the images are anything to go by then the mind-boggling dual-code pre-season showdown between football’s Marseille and rugby’s Toulon was a brilliant day out for fans.
One half of football was followed by one half of rugby in the charity match that ended 36-35 for Marseille. Obviously everything was done in the best possible spirit, with goalkeeper Steve Mandanda playing in midfield, Eric Cantona and Marc Lievremont refereeing a half each and the monsters of Toulon taking it easy with the shoulders during the cross-code rugby extravaganza. However, the spectacle brings forth a question about dual-code dust-ups: whatever happened to the Clash of the Codes?
In 1996 Wigan took on Bath in a two-leg competition, with a game of league and then a game of union. The Warriors had already triumphed over union sides that year, winning the Middlesex Sevens. The hybrid spectacle, on the eve of professionalism in union, saw Bath roundly hammered by Wigan 82-6 in the game of league in Manchester before the Premiership side won the game of union 44-19 at Twickenham.
The exercise was a bit more like an arms race between a G8 country and a crèche in Norfolk, with Wigan’s fitness and professionalism trumping the union boys. However, there was a kernel of an idea there and fans showed up in droves to watch.
The trick was emulated in a fashion in 2003 as Sale Sharks defeated St. Helens in a one-off cross-code match 41-39. In a close game with one half of each code, Sharks racked up a 41-0 half-time lead after a half of union and managed to stave off the Saints challenge in the league phase. The league boys almost drew, however a missed conversion from Sean Long handed Sale the spoils.
If you look at the league names involved in both outings – guys like Andy Farrell, Shaun Edwards, Kris Radlinski, Martin Offiah, Jason Robinson (although he played on the union side in ’03), Henry Paul and Sean Long – and some of the names in union – Phil de Glanville, Mike Catt, Victor Ubogu, Nigel Redman, Andy Robinson and Mark Cueto – there was enough to excite neutrals and diehards alike.
Were such cross-code fixtures to restart, though, it would be difficult to arrange a time. The football-rugby fixture works because both codes are in their off-season, but league runs through the summer.
This being said, with the Rugby League World Cup in the UK, Ireland and France (under the banner England and Wales) in 2013 and the Rugby World Cup in England and Wales in 2015, it is a little surprising that this cross-code issue hasn’t cropped up already.
Any fixture would surely see ticketeers and touts losing their hands as fans snap them up, particularly selling off the old debate of which code is better. Maybe it could fall between two benches, landing in 2014?
It would be impractical, hard to arrange and impossible to appease all involved, but those in the south of France have seen the benefits of hosting a mixed-up format. That benefit is known as “fun”, by the way…