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Is Tomkins's Barbarians outing flattering or unwelcome?

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George Riley George Riley | 07:23 UK time, Friday, 25 November 2011

Sam Tomkins's decision to play rugby union for the Barbarians against Australia on Saturday has divided opinion among league fans and commentators.

So is the union interest in league's brightest young star flattering or unwelcome?

Coming so soon after Tomkins committed his future to Wigan in the face of strong interest from union, and after brother Joel did opt to switch codes, the news prompted the inevitable fears that Sam will indeed follow suit before the end of his new contract as league cannot compete financially with union.

Tomkins is adamant that this is not the first step towards him quitting league for union.

The Warriors full-back baulks at suggestions that he is doing it solely for money and in a bid to land a lucrative union contract.

There have also been claims that Tomkins perhaps did a deal with Wigan when he agreed to stay on, allowing him to turn out for the Baa-Baas. I understand such talk was wide of the mark as the 22-year-old only received the call in the week leading up to England's Four Nations final defeat by Australia.

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He says the decision to say yes was made quickly, with little knowledge of who the Barbarians were, and with no further thought until after he had fulfilled his league commitments with England.

"This is about me getting the opportunity to play at Twickenham and in a game watched by a wide audience," he says. "For me and for Wigan I can't see any negatives."

Both Wigan and the Rugby Football League have been predictably vocal in lauding the positives for their sport, as they would be.

The Warriors's official club statement announcing the news highlighted that the club was "keen to confirm" the player's selection.

RFL chairman Nigel Wood labels it "the sincerest form of flattery" and the game's governing body insists it is not concerned that union will pick off any superstars that league breeds.

How many league stars at the very top of their games have quit for union and left league worse off? Andy Farrell, Jason Robinson, then who?

Chev Walker, Lee Smith and Karl Pryce were not Super League superstars when they quit, tried union and came back. Kyle Eastmond, like Chris Ashton before him, remains unproven. As indeed does Joel Tomkins.

But both Shontayne Hape and Lesley Vainikolo had enjoyed their league glory years before crossing the divide.

So what do Tomkins's fellow players think? Does his decision to dip his toe into union draw praise or prompt fears from his peers?

England coach Steve McNamara is positive, telling me he was keen for Sam to show union what they were missing, and remind them how good our code is.

Two of Tomkins's England team-mates I spoke to, who played in the final but preferred to remain off the record, told me they would both definitely have said yes had the Baa-Baas come calling.

One did admit he can't blame any player for quitting league for union for the money that is on offer. League can offer only a relatively basic wage in comparison if you are an up and coming star.

Fans' negativity to the news persisted on my Twitter feed this week, with comments ranging from "it's rubbish he's just putting himself in the shop window for Yawnion - not good for league" to "a plea for coverage/attention, nothing more".

League pessimists also fear that if he has a stormer, it is inevitable he will be poached, while if he has a shocker - and he did drop a couple of high-ball clangers against both New Zealand and the Aussies - then that will prompt union fans to mock league.

I don't buy any of this negativity. Tomkins has just committed to league and now has an immediate opportunity to showcase the talents that league fans see every week, although his selection on the wing looks to be a cautious one.

I do wonder whether if this wasn't Sam Tomkins, a star player so heavily linked with union, we would even be having this debate.

Say Rob Burrow was selected to play scrum-half for the Baa-Baas, would we be criticising that call?

Pat Richards, 2010 Man of Steel, sees absolutely no problem with his Wigan team-mate Tomkins playing. "I would play if they asked me and it doesn't mean another league player wanting to switch codes," he told me.

"So long as it didn't interfere with any league commitments, then why not? It is the big stage so go and test yourself," states Warrington great and Wales captain Lee Briers.

"It will be a great experience for Sam and I'm all for it," he says, adding: "Any chance you could have a word and get me a game too?!"

Two stalwarts from St helens - Wigan's fierce rivals - are right behind Tomkins too. "This is good for him and for rugby league," Paul Sculthorpe said. "It will be especially beneficial if he carves it up and has a stormer! I would definitely play, it can only be good for the player's profile, so long as he doesn't have a stinker."

Sculthorpe's former team-mate, another Saints legend Sean Long - himself sampling union with a recent surprise switch to amateurs Preston Grasshoppers -, admitted he would think twice about it but then added: "I think I would play. It is good to play on the big stage whatever the code. It is good exposure and I think he will enjoy it."

Former Great Britain and England centre Keith Senior, however, was - in true fashion - more outspoken, saying: "Why don't the RFL just help promote union even more? It's ridiculous, and delaying the inevitable of him going to union too."

Many fully expect Tomkins to look at switching codes in future but don't think that fire is burning too strong in him right now. So, flattering or unwelcome? Or perhaps even unwelcome flattery? Maybe it is none of the above.

Perhaps both codes could just relax and celebrate some terrific skill.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Lets just take it for what it is. I hope he has a great game to show Union Fans the skill that league players have and silence those who think they are completely different games. What he wants to do with his sporting career is up to him and to Rugby League to try and keep him.

  • Comment number 2.

    I can understand the RL supporters complaints but the if you look at what the BaaBaas stand for then I think it is a good thing. The uncapped, skillful player is a cherished tradition. In some ways it could be good for league in that it could showcase the talent that is in that code more and persuade supporters to follow both codes.

  • Comment number 3.

    I have to say that for me, this is a joke.
    There are many reasons for not playing in the game - risk of injury (in a game he hasn't played before), and promotion of a competitor sport - but the biggest one is this - he has just finished the end of a long and full season, including international tests, and needs a break. Most clubs have already started pre season training now - he will be playing top level rugby for nearly 2 years with no break.

  • Comment number 4.

    Andy Farrell was *very* far from at his peak when he went to Rugby Union. He was always over-rated outside Rugby League circles because he was the only League player anyone south of Wakefield could name. Neither Wigan, nor Farrell himself could believe their luck or cash the cheque quickly enough! As for Tomkins, good luck to him. He is utter class, has the right skillset and plays in the right positions to be able to excel at both formats (unlike, say, Henry Paul, or even Farrell at his best). If he wants to go to Union, he will, the Barbarians thing is a bit of a side issue.

  • Comment number 5.

    If he is looking to switch to union then he's picked the right shop window.
    The Barbarians used to be like a British Lions team, picked to provide 'The Final Challenge' to a touring Southern Hemisphere nation.

    Now it is an end of season run out for players from the Super 15 to play a Tri Nations team in London, giving all involved a chance to spend some time here talking to English and French clubs. Northern Hemisphere players are too busy with the Heineken Cup.

    I used to pay to support the Barbarians, now I barely register the score.

    Now maybe, just maybe if the Barbarians were to be mostly made up of of season british based RL players, providing that challenge to the Tri Nations, )in what would certainly be an open running game) Then I would definitely pay more attention.

    I'm a welsh RU fan, here in peace, more than happy to see your best League players not be involved with the RFU. :-)

  • Comment number 6.

    Having played both codes (about 30 years ago) there are aspects of the laws of rugby union which do not come naturally to a league player, and these have become more complex since I played. The union laws about releasing the ball when tackled, and the tackling player rolling away are far from natural to someone brought up playing league. I think there is a risk that in heat of the moment of a very fast, high profile match Tomkins may give away penalties which will make the union traditionalists shake their heads. ( Goodness knows some of union players struggle with this!) Playing to a new set of laws for the first time in what is effectively an international match is I think "a big ask".

  • Comment number 7.

    As a fan of both codes, but more so Rugby League, I think Sam is free to play for who he wants as long as his club is happy with it and he's fit.
    Its up to the RFL to make sure that the game can keep its stars and not loose them to Union. the proposed changes to the salary cap to enable clubs to have a larger cap for producing young talent is a step in the right direction, but we have to face the fact that league is at the moment a much smaller game in the UK than Union. Until the RFL get a grip of marketing and start to shout louer about how superb the product is, it will remain so I fear.
    I would also like to see the cross code game reintroduced as a regular fixture between the two national sides. One match in each code, one at Twickenham playing league & one in the RL heartland playing Union, that would be a REAL showcase for our great game, and show fans of both codes what they are missing.
    As per, superb blog BTW. Look forward to beating your Rhinos in February...

  • Comment number 8.

    I think if Union break the bank to get him, he needs to have the potential to play a more pivotal role than solely on the wing. I just don't see it as enough of an influential position in the game to warrant a big salary.

    I wonder if he has the kicking game to play fly half in Union? That would be exciting......

  • Comment number 9.

    I think its a great opportunity for him and both codes in general and I have little doubt he will play league for another few years yet given the contract he just signed.

    As a fan of both codes but one with I leaning slightly towards Union I have to say he is the first league player since Robinson who I've watched play and thought wow we could do with him in the world cup/6n's squad and eventually I think it will happen. Ashton has been a big hit but at the point he moved over he wasn't really ready to step up.

    On the immediate future the one thing that did strike me about this was it seems to follow very quickly Joel's move, which was followed by talk of a joint team up with Sarries and Wigan player share and then him commiting to Wigan. Is there a chance this link up with Wigan will mean he ends up playing some rugby for Sarries as well albeit not on a full time basis?

    Anyway trying to ignore the politics it will be great to see what he can do and the union defences wont have seen much like him in recent years i think they'll find him a handful.

  • Comment number 10.

    Yes they should worry because rugby union is bereft of ideas and skills in the UK. League players are more skillful and far more upper body strength. They are better at getting the ball out when tackled in possession, plus if you watch modern union, it looks more like league every year. Lined up boneheads with limited ball skills screwing up in the new style backline when the ball comes out the ruck. I grew up arounf union, mercifully not watching England who are basically dire, but find league far more skillful. Also the new football (ie union in England) pays more so they will whore all the talent from league who dont have the deep pockets. Sort of like football.

  • Comment number 11.

    Reading the comments there from the heart break kid I come the conclusion that his last gambit about can he kick might be the most relevant factor due to the fact that is all they do in the English Union. He would be better off joining a Super 15 club as he might actually get a touch. The English game is too cluttered with brainless forward play with no skill required except brute strength.

  • Comment number 12.

    I believe what is interesting is that League players tend to get invited to play for a Union team as a 'showcase' of their talents but League never invite Union players to do the same. Could it be that they are invited and just refuse?.
    Admittedly playing infront of large crowds and given nationwide media coverage is a massive draw for League players but is League such a minor blip on the rugby map that more and more run over to play.?
    Fair play to Sam to play once offered but i wonder how happy Wigan and England would be if he got a season ending injury due to his 'showcasing'?

  • Comment number 13.


    Sort of my point. I think he'll be wasted on the wing and you won't see (enough of) his skills. Based on the odd highlight reel I've seen, I think 'Carter-like' breaks from fly half would be in his armoury but you obviously need to be able to put the boot through it on occasions. Not seen enough of him to know whether he can do that or not.

  • Comment number 14.

    Yeti. If there's no skill in forward play why when there is cross code games do we not see proper scrums?

  • Comment number 15.

    I dont think anyone should worry yet, he has publicly confirmed he is staying with Wigan and RL, the Baa Baa's are an 'invitational' team, they invited him and he accepted.

    As for Union being 'bereft of ideas and skills in the UK' I disagree, that may be true of the English national team, however, there is indeed an extreme amount of skill out there at club and international level.

    Also, as someone had a moan about Union whoring all the talent, League indeed used to have very deep pockets and used to 'whore all the talent' not that long ago , look at the players who were poached from Wales RU to RL in the late 80's and early 90's, Allan Bateman, Jonathan Davies, John Devereux, Kevin Ellis, Scott Gibbs, Jonathan Griffiths, Adrian Hadley, Mark Jones, Paul Moriarty, Rowland Philips, Scott Quinnell, Richard Webster and David Young. These were players who were on top of their game when switching codes so dont think league fans can complain too much!

  • Comment number 16.

    Tomkins has just signed a new Wigan contract and may try moving to the NRL where the rewards for playing rugby league are greater, like Ellis and the Burgess brothers have, rather than move to rugby union. The NRL is where players like Tomkins (eg Billy Slater) thrive rather than in rugby union.

  • Comment number 17.

    Re 15. The skill. like in football, is largely by the foreign contingents playing in the league. The stars are hardly English.

  • Comment number 18.

    This all seems to me to be part of an RFU campaign (backed by Wigan) to again attempt to demonstrate that league is heretical and the two codes are the same sport, when clearly they're not.
    Tomkins is probably on the wing because it is the only position that bears any resemblance to its league counterpart. Place him anywhere else on the field and he would be completely lost.
    We, the RL world, have to stop using our knowledge and talent to help the RFU adapt its game to be more like ours -- the only thing we have is our product and if they agree its better than theirs then they should join our sport and stop trying to belatedly restructure theirs to resemble ours.

  • Comment number 19.

    17. Not necessarily talking about English players but UK in general, in particluar Irish and Welsh players.

    Most English players are indeed bereft of skills and ideas I agree, thats why the RFU is in such a mess now and the AVIVA premiership, even though competitive is a bore and often a turn off, look at the Welsh and Irish national teams (and first 2 rounds of Heineken Cup) and there is indeed an abundance of natural flair, skill and talent.

  • Comment number 20.

    I agree with HKRobininBelgrade, it's the sort of thing Maurice Lindsay would approve of, when Wigan played Bath (was it ?) in the 1990s, but the two games are further apart than they ever have been.

  • Comment number 21.

    Marginalised, segregated, stigmatised, whatever you want to call it, blame whoever you like, league has never been able to generate the money or the media profile that it deserves. Our players already earn significantly less than their dark side counterparts who play on a much bigger stage with all the media attention and advertising that they deserve. A case of water finding its own level as they say.

    It's so ironic that league has always been a professional game but in terms of selling itself has always been naive and amaterish. Entrenched within its own confines, we can only look back on a century of missed opportunities and commercial incompetence. It's only a question of time before the union dollar will buy league's chip off its shoulder. A tragic but inevitable demise, the game will be reduced to what happened in France: an amateurish game for valiant part-timers.

  • Comment number 22.

    As a follower of (and previously player of) both codes, with a slight League bias, I'm looking forward to the game.

    I hope Tomkins gets the ball more than the average Union winger will, and I can see him coming inside looking for work early on.

    I think what everyone wants to see is him running in broken play against the generally larger and slower Union forwards, and I'm personally looking forward to a possible link up in midfield with Habana.

    He won't be going anywhere for 3 years, NRL included.

  • Comment number 23.

    Why did the Barbarians think it was a good idea to ask Tomkins in the run up to the final? I think it is more than a bit disrespectful, but that’s not a new experience for league. And why did Tomkins' management think it was a good idea to be discussing it at all until his commitment to the English XIII had been completed? The lad is young and doesn't need any kind of distraction especially when playing at the highest levels. Thinking that he could deal with it was a mistake and that was proved right by his affected game last Saturday evening. Yes it will be lucrative long term, which is probably what his management team were thinking, but he personally will look back at that final and wish it had been different.

    I have no problem with the interest in Tomkins, that’s not to say that I don’t want to keep him in our game. Of course the RFU wants kids like the Tomkins brothers and Ashton, they can run with the ball in hand and most importantly pass the blinking thing - something the English XV don’t seem to be able to do – which is essential if they are going to get the England XV to play a properly competitive, and attractive, brand of union against the southern hemisphere teams. I do have a problem with union interfering with Tomkins’ career whilst he is a rugby league player, and definitely when he is at the most important part of any English rugby league player’s career: facing Australia, historically the greatest rugby team (of any code) on the planet.

    They couldn’t wait another 5 days? Of course they could. Sam will say his game wasn’t influenced by anything other than what was on that pitch but he certainly looked distracted to me. Which is sad for Sam Tomkins. Earlier in the tournament he had an excellent game against Australia and should’ve been allowed to do so again at Elland Road, without the Raa Baas pestering him inbetween. No doubt he will have a good game and a bad game, as is the way when an attacking league player moves to union, he will at times get caught doing what comes naturally attacking the line.

    He’ll be in an England union shirt before long of course, but until then the XV code should have nothing to do with him.

  • Comment number 24.

    Think we need to stop bleating and let him get on with it. League really needs to have greater self-confidence.

    League's problems run far deeper than a talented lad having a knock-about with the southerners and it's those that should be addressed.

  • Comment number 25.

    Its one game. He'll probably only play 60 minutes at best. I'd also add he doesnt have the pace of a winger but it put out there so he wont get tactically lost in his first union game.

    Its not a big deal. After 3 years in league, see how he feels. If he wants to leave then ok. Thats what happened to Union players 15-20 years ago.

  • Comment number 26.

    Oh deary dear. How revealing that as soon as one league player decides to play one union game for an invitational side the knives come out against union and, dare I say it, 'southerners' in general.

    Everyone saying that the skill levels are lower in union or that english players can't pass only needs to look at how Harlequinns are playing at the moment (or Northampton when they are playing well - yes I know Splashton is ex league). The RWC was rubbish but it doesn't really reflect on how the England team or players have been playing these last 12 months.

    Further, the forwards game in union is more complex than it looks and as an ex lock/prop I think you understand it more if you play it. It isn't all about strength. Otherwise SA would beat Aus every time.

    I'll admit I have only really watched league three time but each time I was amazed at the lack of intensity. Maybe I was watching the wrong games but it seemed that the tackles weren't being put in and the stop start nature ofthe game bored me. I also watched England vs NZ (not the last game - a while back) and after a kick (which no one chased) the ball bounced TWICE before it was retrieved. So I switched off after ten minutes.

  • Comment number 27.

    The only down side for Wigan/England is the possibility of injury.

    Looking at the Barbarians team (only one fly half in the squad - Cipriani) I can't see them going for a tactical kicking game so let's hope Sam can show off his skills to the max. I don't buy the argument that him playing is promoting union - it's only one Barbarians game after all.

    Quite the contrary I think he could do rugby league a service if he can get into the game and play to the best of his ability and not fall foul of the laws too much. Let's face it three days isn't long to prepare but with the experience and characters around him he will be made to feel at home.

    Having seen most of the union world cup and watched the Four Nations including going to a fantastic day at Wembley (despite the result) I do not see how even the more one-eyed variety of union fan could mock rugby league on the basis of one player playing his first/only game in an alien code.

    I hope Sam does fit in a bit at full back in general play so he can show off his running skills. Looking at the Barbarians team (only one fly half in the squad - Cipriani) I can't see them going for a tactical kicking game so there's every chance for Sam to show off his skills to the max.

    I don't buy the argument that him playing is promoting union - it's only one Barbarians game after all although the Barbarians games have been losing interest and credibility in recent years. However, I think Tomkins could do rugby league a service if he can get into the game and play to the best of his ability (and not fall foul of the laws too much).

  • Comment number 28.

    I'd be more concerned about Tomkins physical wellbeing. Look at what happened to Gareth Thomas when he carried the ball in the 'union' style; he got sparked out cold. Same could happen in reverse to Sam - Pocock will gobble him up too, turnovers, penalties etc etc etc . That said, if he gets a bit of space in an open game he could really shine, lord knows he is a talented runner and ball-player.

    Sadly the Baa Baa's games are rarely open and fun these days, the game against Aus in Wembley a few years back, which I was (un)lucky enough to attend, was without doubt one of the worst matches of any sport I have ever witnessed.

    Also, anyone who thinks Farrell switched codes in his prime knows even less about RL than me, and I know sweet FA.

  • Comment number 29.

    Flippin' 'eck, RL has so many chips on its shoulders, David Dickinson (hazelnut head) would describe RL probably "cheap as chips". There is no problem with any RL player going to play RU, or football, or basketball, or handball, or athletics. Or cricket. Switching between sports happens all the time all over the world, nobody wastes his time worrying about it, except RL. Time for RL to grow up a bit.

  • Comment number 30.

    Elliot- a lack of intensity? Really unsure which games you could have been watching, are you sure it was Rugby League? And the "stop-start" nature, this from a fan of the sport full of rucks where 5-6 from each side lie down and the rest stand there? And perhaps after the ball bounced twice you got a shock when the guy who retrived it didn't kick it straight back to the opposition.

    Kieran Cunningham turned down mega-bucks in 2002 to join Swansea, saying the lure of extra money was offset by the thought of standing there freezing on a Saturday afternoon. Welsh RU wrongly said it was because he couldn't prove his eligibility, which he did showing his Grandads birth certificate on TV.

    George, as a Bulls fan I can't agree with you on Lesleys best days been behind him when he left. The teams were but the '07 Volcano was still as potent as when he learned to catch a ball and became one of the worlds best. Hape I'll give you, his last season with us was one too many.

    I'm torn on the Tomkins thing, can see both sides but lean towards an RL star is playing a part in promoting a rival sport. If we had an "all-star" type of game I wouldn't want to see any union players in it.

  • Comment number 31.

    Our game's better than your game.

    No it's not.

    Yes it is.

    No it's not.

    Yes it is.....

    I can't be the only one who gets bored of this?

    Anyway, Tomkins, good for him, its a great oppotunity for him to display his skills in a different arena, if he decides he has a future in RU then great, if not then great at least he gave it a go, I'm just glad the players aren't as narrow minded as alot of the supporters, or we'd never have any cross code players.

  • Comment number 32.

    All this talk about Union taking players from League due to financial clout is ironic. Twenty years ago there were no problems with League waving checkbooks at amateur Union clubs and buying all their best players
    Let's face it Union is now much more popular and has the money and League will have to live with it

  • Comment number 33.

    Whenever there is a cross code discussion like this, inevitably there is a lot of childish: "My dad is bigger than your dad," posturing. All that silliness aside, the fact remains that professional sport these days is about money. And the big sports that seem to manage their resources the best get the highest profile, or so it's said. However I think considering the limited resources at the RFL's disposal they do pretty well. Certainly better than the shambles at the RFU manage to achieve with the enormous, by comparison, resources, financial and otherwize, they have.
    The fact remains that the more popular a game is, the more followers it has, the more it will attract TV money, which in this day and age is an essential. Problem is: he who pays the piper calls the tune. And therein lies the future of Rugby. One combined code will be an attractive prospect for the TV companies. Theoretically a larger support base, only the one Rugby product to buy and approaching world wide coverage. When RU went officially professionally I thought it likely a merger would eventually occur. Nothing has happened to make me change my mind.
    And good luck to Sam Tompkins tomorrow, and Joel at Saracens; we will just have to wait and see what happens, now and in the long run.

  • Comment number 34.

    I dont see one code coming for a long time, if ever.

  • Comment number 35.

    its an exhibition match folks, calm down. Your excitement has put a few more bums on seats which the sponsors will like. It does not matter if he has a good game or not. It has no greater or wider significance.

  • Comment number 36.

    I hate these cross code blogs, simply because we see so much bitterness from both sides of the fence, it's easy to moan that the code you don't follow is somehow rubbish, but this just shows the mental fragility some people clearly have.

    As for Tomkins in a Ba-Bas shirt, what's the point in asking such a talented ball handler and reader of the game to play on the wing, if they really wanted a RL winger, Ryan Hall has just displayed skills in the 4 nations that prove he's as good a winger as any other player on earth, in either code, so why wasn't he asked to play?

  • Comment number 37.

    The simple fact is if Tomkins was playing a friendly in a football match we wouldn't bat an eyelid and football is far more popular than either of the rugby codes and can offer money that they can dream of.

    The truth is Tomkins is probably one of the most exciting English players in either code at the moment so it's clear people want to see him play. He may play tomorrow and love it and want to move right away despite his new contract, but he may also play and get bored (no slight against Union, but wingers don't get involved as much as in League) or feel that he is out of his depth with all the extra rules. I just hope he gets a chance to run with the ball because it is a superb sight seeing him in full flow.

  • Comment number 38.

    As principally a Welsh union fan, I personally hope he has an absolute stinker and all the speculation goes way...not least because he's clearly very talented and I'd hate to see England RFU get their mits on him. They'd either stultify him with their inept and tedious "style" of play, or, worse still, he'd help forge a new era of superb English rugby union...urgh!

    Seriously though - why not just put the crystal balls away and see what happens on Saturday? I thoroughly enjoyed watching this lad play during the 4 nations and it'll be interesting (just interesting I think, not yet a portent of doom for RFL) to see how he gets on.

  • Comment number 39.

    @36 - here here! That Ryan Hall is a finisher and then some!

  • Comment number 40.

    I don't remember RL being all that happy when a certain J. Wilkinson changed codes...

  • Comment number 41.

    Geordiebull - as I said, maybe I was watching the wrong games. One had the Crusaders in it. Also, re the kicking thing, it was a problem to do with a rule change that has been sorted now but I partially agree that the most exciting sides run the ball back. I.e. the All Blacks, Australia (union) etc.

    However, I do think that the forwards play bring more intensity in union. An example of an epic forwards battle was the Australia vs Ireland game in the RWC or the Ireland vs England game in the 6 nations. Those matches were intense and, if you understand the union game, entertaining.

    Every time a player get tackled in league he stops, puts the ball between his legs and play begins again. Stop start, stop start. I prefer a more fluid, multi phase style of play any day. By fluid I mean play continues even when the player is tackled and both team actually compete for the ball i.e. Munster played 41 phases before O'Gara dropped goaled against Northampton recently. Obviously, played badly, where players knock or give away cynical penalties etc it isn't entertaining. But that's the same for each code.

  • Comment number 42.

    I don't think we should worry about his "kicking game". He is playing for the Barbarians, not Leicester!

    His play at the tackle may be of a concern though. that surely has to take more than a few days of practice to get right.

    Having said that, I am looking forward to seeing his pure rugby skills on display.

  • Comment number 43.

    Presumably Tomkins isn't playing for free this weekend? I would guess a nice fee is involved for him and/or the Wigan club. Personally I just see this as a somewhat misguided attempt by Wigan to secure attention for the club. It's certainly got them some attention although I'm not sure of the kind that they wanted.

    As for Tomkins looking at this as a chance to showcase himself to the RU world well if that is why he's doing it then so be it. If Tomkins wants to join his brother then all that will mean is that there is room for another talented rugby league player to take his place. Unlike some, I'm not at all worried about Tomkins leaving League. Supporting a team that has already lost a player to RU, I'm now of the view that I will be the first to wave goodbye and then look forward to seeing what his replacement can do. All this desperation to keep him in the sport makes Rugby League look pathetic.

  • Comment number 44.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 45.

    smackeyes, or should I call you smackhead, as only someone on heroin could ever sound so stupid, what are you on about?

  • Comment number 46.


    This type of debate has/will go on forever i.e ooop north= league, doon sooth= union.


  • Comment number 47.

    People get way to wroked up over which code is better nonsense i mean think back 10+ years and the acqusations levelled at Union now were pretty much those the welsh put to league aren't they, poaching and overpaying the best talent coming through?

    I'd have thought league fans would be happy relaly Tomkins has committed to 3 years in league at least menaing they've retained a youngster who looks likely to be a superstar really wherever he plays. the fact with no prior experience he will turn out for teh baabaas is a huge complement to him and RL in general. it might bring a little of teh old Baabaas magic back (in the pro era its lost a little something for me anyway) if it evolved to starrt inviting cross code players. Imagine seeing a team with say Slater and Inglis in a backline? Would be fun just to see what they could do really which was part of what made the baabaa great they didnt play a normal way really.

  • Comment number 48.

    smackeyes, if the League v Union debate is so 'boring' as you claim, why add to it in such a childish way, all you've done is make yourself sound like a 5 year old and a bigoted one at that.

  • Comment number 49.

    Interesting blog George

    As someone involved in RL I feel that our code has brought through players with tremendous rugby and physical skills, which are naturally attractive to RU. That said, there are technicalities in RU that make the transition difficult, and in some positions almost impossible to make.

    Sam will play in a position where the skills he has should outweigh the technical deficiencies he has in RU. He is, after all, an outstanding rugby talent. I dont expect him to stay on the wing, and as Ashton has shown, the RL trait of coming infield and being a late support runner is just as effective in Union as League.

    In the scheme of things, I wouldn't worry from RL's point of view unless RU gets a major northern club side, who can offer the best juniors a local, successful, high profile and highly rewarded alternative to RL - at 1st team level, it is simply inevitable there will be people who change codes, but RL does produce quality talent. Union will always be bigger - and that is not propeganda, it is fact - like it or not, it is more established across more of the UK and more of the owrld than league, and has deeper pockets as a result. League will always have its appeal as well, but remain in the shadows. Leagues big challenge is finding that chink of light to be able to spotlight it's stars and give them some level of profile which can compete with that of Union players, rather than fighting Union itself.

    What would be fascinating, however, is if the tables are turned and some of RL's "minnow" nations - Ireland, or Scotland for example, decide to approach some high profile RU internationals who realistically perhaps are coming to the end of a career, but might fancy having that crack at RL and could be drafted into a World Cup team in 2013, arguably strengthening their countries team, and also rasing the profile of the game in those countries and of the Tournament - can you imagine if Brian O'Driscoll for example played at centre for Ireland RL in the 2013 World Cup - he would be able to say he had a go at League and Ireland would receive much more profile than they otherwise would have done. Who knows, they might even pull off a few shocks as well. I'm not saying this will happen but there could eb an era of dual code players about to start - best of both worlds or rugby armageddon? I'll leave it to each of you to decide.

  • Comment number 50.

    I find this entire thread so depressing. I know I am in the minority but I love both codes. Played well they can both the best sporting spectacles in the world. They are very different games - and long may they remain so.

  • Comment number 51.

    I think it's great - I'll only be watching 'cos he's playing. I know he'll be targeted - but I also wouldn't be surprised if he runs the length of the pitch and scores. I'm not worried he'll run off and join Sarries like his brother and see it as a compliment. He's a really, really good rugby player.

    Personally I don't like the way that some people from both sides have a real go at each other. Banter is fair enough and I'll happily join in with that and a lot is banter. But some isn't. Both codes have their place and I can enjoy both codes (although one is a bit more entertaining than fat blokes falling over after walking into the other teams players. ;-P)

    The BaaBaas are different anyway and I think we should maybe have a BaaBaas in League. Maybe have a three way comp between GB, Exiles and BaaBaas?

  • Comment number 52.

    And as an aside - I went to watch Preston Grasshoppers the other day, as Longy was playing. They lost but it was a good half day out and I enjoyed the game.

  • Comment number 53.

    He's a dissgrace in my eyes union have being trying to get rid of Rugby LEAUGUE FOR 116 years and here he is playing the game

  • Comment number 54.

    Money ALWAYS talks and EVERYTHING is for sale. When RFU was 'amateur', RL attracted RFU players because of what.....the coalfields, the nicer weather up north? Rooney would still be at Everton under that blue-sky premise.

    Unfortunately Tomkins won't get a chance to show-boat on the wing - he'll be crammed against a sideline with nowhere to go and expected to pull off a miracle run and be seen as an underweight and out of his element player. He's a broken-play exponent in RL. Play him at full back and you'll get a better indication of his talent. And for those of you RFU watchers who have seldom watched RL, there are plenty of up-and-unders Tomkins has fielded.

    Comment on Scrums:
    RL scrums put the forwards into one area to open the field up for more entertainment ! RL scrums are just a way to get the game started again......QUICKLY.......and start to entertain the paying audience.

    RFU scrums are just a way to slow the game down, give the forwards another breather and allow a bias referee to award bull penalties that no one can fathom. The World Cup I used the 30 second skip button on the PVR usually 3 times per scrum (1:30 seconds of nothing but resets and whistle blows) before play eventually started; even longer in the first 20 minutes as each pack tried to 'make a statement' before of course they were penalized.

    I'd be surprised if there was any more than 65% of true rugby action in any RFU game these days. May as well be American Football, and at least they stop the clock when the ball goes dead !
    The exception being of course England RFU where you must include the extra curricular activity in head office, hotels, bars and ferries as part of the entertainment package!

  • Comment number 55.


    "I know he'll be targeted"


    Not so sure about that! Don't think the Auzzie Union guys are gona know much about him.

  • Comment number 56.

    The game can only improve Sam as a player. Tactically he could become more aware from playing games such as this. And at a skill level what rugby team in the world play with the freedom of the Barbarians.

    He is a young lad who enjoys playing rugby, why should that be a problem. Keith Senior is just bitter that he was never given the oppertunity to do such an illustrious thing as play for the Baba's.

    Sam will play rugby union one day its a nailed on guarantee. But for now I just hope as a Welshman he stays away from the game until he is passed his best.

  • Comment number 57.

    why is there no mention of the fact that he can't leave for 3 years at least, surely if he was "trying out" union it would be towards the end of that, he just a yound lad that wants to try rugby, if he does well it well be a great advert for wigan, super league and english rugby league as a whole

  • Comment number 58.

    and 44?

    "P.s is league still followed by flat cap wearing pigeon fancying hovis making whippet breeders."

    wow nice to see that there are some people who can't debate so just resort to rediculous stereotypes

  • Comment number 59.

    I don't understand (or realize before these types of blogs) the level of animosity between these 2 types of rugby.
    all these post about Union attempting to ruin RL by taking its much more talented and skillful player etc etc
    comment 53 " union have being trying to get rid of Rugby LEAUGUE FOR 116 years" (bit dramatic)
    Surely if a player decides to change codes that is his personal choice. Its not the sport as a whole on some big vendetta to destroy the other.

  • Comment number 60.

    @59 - unfortunately, though, history does actually make quite clear that Union tried extremely hard to vanquish League from existence, including in places like Vichy France where to play League became illegal and property was taken away from the sport. Or in the armed forces where playing League was banned until very recently (I think around 20 years ago). Or if a lad played League then the RFU ensured he never played Union again, and this was prevelant in schools, amateur clubs, etc, until again, very recently. Some posters may sound dramatic - or rather, melodramatic - but unfortunately their feelings can be based on historical accuracy. And the history is quite recent, in the life experiences of present day League supporters so it is little wonder that some resent any overtures being made to Union or Union appearing to be enticing players from League. For most of the sport's history it is Union that has felt threatened - hence its need to ban every Tom, Dick and Harry from playing Rugby League. However, in recent times that has changed and RU are benefiting from being professional and the establishment code of rugby (with lots of rich backers and the media exposure all that brings), especially at international level.

    Personally I'm not into melodrama where Union is concerned but nor do I think it appropriate that League is or is seen to tody to Union or indeed any other sport. We should be trying to promote the game and not curry favour with Union clubs (or any other club). Wigan have done a strange thing and look poor as a result.

  • Comment number 61.


    Tip of the cap to your knowledge sir!! makes me think i should really look into the facts before I blurt out whats in the old noodle.

    some good info there, thanks for that.

  • Comment number 62.

    What socks will he wear, Wigan RL?

  • Comment number 63.

    Sam Tomkins is realitvely unproven at the highest level in Rugby League as showed against Australia on Saturday. Its all well and good smashing the 'lower' teams in the league but would be nice for him to do it against the best. It is obvious he will be moving to Union at some point and as a follower of both I can see the attraction, but will he have an impact??

  • Comment number 64.

    Good post from Saint Di (#60). I went to a heavily union school in the 1990s. One week, a slightly maverick games master decided to let us play a game of League - and was clearly told in no uncertain terms that it wasn't to happen again.

    I like both codes and would like to see the day when there is no enmity between them but I know that will probably never happen - and let's be honest, it gives a lot of spice to the sport known as Rugby Football.

    I understand the RL community's reservations wrt Tomkins, but this isn't really much of a game. He may come over to Union in three years' time but that will still be three of his best years devoted to League. And it's like any professional sportsman who wants away - if he genuinely does, you have to let him go. If he does, League will carry on and will find other young stars the way it always does.

  • Comment number 65.

    @Jaaaaaaaaaaaane, here's a brief recap of RU attempts (pre-1995 introduction of professionalism) to hinder the development of RL: introduction of life bans for any player opting to play RL; automatic bans for any player even speaking to a representative of an RL club; use of MoD influence to install an outright ban on RL in the British armed forces (ban lifted 1994); outlawing the sport in South Africa and demonizing SA players who switched to English RL clubs; using the WWII Vichy regime in France to have RL coaches and administrators imprisoned, interrogated and/or shot as British spies; forcing the wholesale conversion of an RL competition and clubs in Yugoslavia to RU in 1965. Even as late as 1994, one Cambridge Uni player was forced to withdraw from the Varsity match against Oxford Uni after the RFU discovered he'd player amateur rugby league!! (see Tony Collins' "Rugby league in twentieth century Britain: a social and cultural history")

    Whatever we may think as RL supporters and whatever we know about the history of RFU policies, we'll never ban a player for life just for playing RU and are unlikely to use oppressive regimes to try to wipe out our great rival.

    p.s. if amateurism was the only reason for the Union to exist, surely it should have been scrapped when the game formally turned pro in 1995?

  • Comment number 66.

    As a fan of both codes, but more League than Union, I'll be tuning in to see what happens. I personally don't think Tomkins will have much of an impact in this one game, but I'll be pleasantly surprised if he does. It's just a bit of fun!
    On a serious note, if he does switch codes at some point in the next 5 years, there's no doubt he would be a success. Jason Robinson has been the only successful convert in recent years, first because a winger is a winger, and second, he wasn't over the hill when he switched codes, but Tomkins could easily be as successful. Robinson went from a League winger to a Union fullback and I see no reason why Tomkins couldn't bring the "modern" League fullback style of play into Union. Billy Slater's the best at it right now, but Tomkins is not far behind.
    Personally, I'd prefer to see him move to the NRL rather than switch codes, but if he wants a real challenge in a few years and switches codes, why hold that against him?

  • Comment number 67.

    Gone are the days of league being a better game, a more exciting game, played by superior athletes. It is now still a more exciting game, the rules and number of players dictate that but now it is played by inferior players/athletes.

    The reality is that people pay to see the very best compete not to see the best entertainment - if that wasn't the case then all England rugby union fans would be paying top dollar and packing out Twickenham to watch the England womens team, instead the women only play at Twickenham when the match is played after a senior men's game.

    Market forces are rarely wrong over any significant period and the market constantly tells us that the masses prefer union.

    As a union fan I hope Tomkins does switch but the sooner he does so the better. Clearly, if it is his intention to play union, he should be aiming to play in the 2015 RWC where England, if they get their house in order, should be a genuine contender playing at home. By switching 12 months prior, as is likely, he will be doing himself a huge disservice, albeit it might appease some league fans over the next 3 years.

    As for league, I can't help thinking they would be better served concentrating on beating the Aussies on a regular basis instead of constantly stating that their game is better than union; that just smacks of an inferiority complex. Watching Stevo repeatedly do just that on Sky is just embarrassing...

  • Comment number 68.

    @67 "As for league, I can't help thinking they would be better served concentrating on beating the Aussies on a regular basis instead of constantly stating that their game is better than union"

    Agree with the first bit, but this cause will only be helped by retaining the likes of Tomkins etc. You could also be partisan and say NH Union should concentrate on beating the AB's. Do not watch Sky Sport, so will assume you are correct about Stevo. I can say the BBC RL commentary team is very good and does not resort to this tactic.

    As a League fan that watches Union as well, I am amused by the messiah complex that affects English RU at the moment; I heard there was a recent "Lockyer for skills coach" request.

    If I was an young English Union winger, I would be pretty hacked off at the likes of Tomkins and Eastmond jumping the queue for top whack, but I guess RU clubs have the cash to splash. I prefer both codes to develop young talent; by all means swap over when there is nothing else to achieve (like Jason Robinson).

    Also buyer beware! As someone above correctly posted, the Kangaroos squeezed Tomkins out of last weeks final. The question Union should ask before buying English RL players is not just are they good (yes of course) - are they as good as Thurston, Lockyer, Inglis, Slater and Smith so we can mount a genuine challenge to the mighty AB's?

    Still, even Jeremy Guscott was saying nice things about Sam and the skills of League backs. I for one, am all the end of the cold war - trolls on both sides can get stuffed - good natured banter always welcome. Keep the codes separate though, chaps.

    Good luck Sam, the BaaBaa's have lost their lustre due to part to congested international fixtures. Would be good to see the tradition revived.

    PS I have a sneaky feeling Sam will be joining Madge in the NRL once his time at Wigan is up.

  • Comment number 69.

    PPS in the spirit of glasnost I attach a link to a review of Super League Lego. Put your code loyalties aside and enjoy the bricks:

  • Comment number 70.

    personally i think it is an absolute disgrace that a league player is picked to play union for the baa baas. both games have similarities but also massive differences. whatever the real reasons for his inclusion are, it still smacks of a bad joke

  • Comment number 71.

    dirtygumshield, this is undoubtedly a work of genius and the best review of any league season I've ever see!!! Many, many thanks for posting

  • Comment number 72.

    I don't think there's much doubt that we will lose Sam to RU eventually. He has signed a new 5 year deal at Wigan but it only means he will play for Wigan for the next 3 years? What's that all about? Must be a get out clause that allows him to go to union while Wigan get a good transfer fee for him. A shame but right now we can't compete financially because RU has most of the money & RL's salary cap rules don't help when it comes to retaining players.

  • Comment number 73.

    disgrace? bad joke? why? maybe there's no subterfuge going on, just the baa-baas recognise a huge talent, want to provide entertainment to a big audience and give an opportunity to an exciting, talented young athlete to showcase his talent. if you were that athlete, given the invitation, what would you do?

  • Comment number 74.

    So was there not a single promising wing out there in the rugby union scene who might validly have been selected? If there was, I submit that there must be more to the selection of a league player than meets the eye.

    And if there wasn't, well... that's too grim to contemplate.

  • Comment number 75.

    When he takes to the field..he'd better not forget to take a book with him.
    If the game follows the usual union pattern,he'll be lucky to touch the ball 3/4 times..not forgetting the 25/30mins when the game is at a complete standstill.
    Union,along with American rugby is the most over-hyped game on the planet and I'll be busy doing something with more at Asda!

  • Comment number 76.

    65 - you missed out the England & Wales RU disgraceful whites only policy which only ended late 1980's (at least AUS, SA & NZ apologised). Perhaps the money from the forward pass fest tomorrow can repay the French RL for what was stolen by the RU collaberators in WW2 - but I doubt it, one day there might be an apology.

    I actually like both codes...can't fathom those who insist that one is better than the other....always amazed at the RU comments when RU copies RLs every move (although much much slower)....and you have Rob Andrew (go on tell me what does he do for £250k ???) RL might be smaller (from being banned - why ??), but its much better governed.

    RL was pillored for paying its players (long long forgotten) and even playing in LEAGUES !!! (you had merit tables - ha ha ha)...we might wear flat caps but you are just sheep - you just believe whatever your Union press tell you to believe. Even the anti-christ Stephen Jones recently commented how dull the RU world cup was and how bad it was that someone like SBW is picked....on the bench !!

    Some bright spark will realise having 13 players gives more room (i.e. for rugby). But not soon, got to complete the investigation into dwarf throwing first. What exactly should RL learn from RU ? That it has more money but no standards ?

    At least we'll see some tries tomorrow in this meaningless game. Think they should play Sam at FB though, he's not a winger. If Sam goes to RU goodluck to him, he's a winner and how RU need some of those on and off the pitch.

  • Comment number 77.

    When I heard this news I really wanted him to do well, for the sake of rugby league. due to the utter spanking the sport would take in the instance he has a poor game.

    I also hoped that they put him at full back, giving him players to pass to and his devilish dummy to come into effect, but instead they put him at wing, with predictably little space for him to work his magic.

    I also thought that this might possibly have been a little jab at league, by picking one of their top pin-up performers and putting him in a position he may be ineffective - giving them a great chance to put down the sport - maybe

  • Comment number 78.

    Elliot @ 41, and 26 I'm not unsurprised by your union biased comments that League is a stop start game... in my mind that’s the same as Darts fans Saying they don’t like Sumo Wrestling because too many fat people play it.....

    You say that a play the ball is stop start in comparison to a fluid "phase" ...!!!

    You really do actually say about Union that "play continues even when the player is tackled and both team actually compete for the ball" ....are you for real????

    I've seen plenty of these multi fluid phases where a ruck has lasted over 15 seconds and no one has been doing any competing of the sort, the ball is stationary on the ground while a player leans over it and the half back(?) waits....yes waits to get the opposition to encroach so they can get a penalty..

    my rule of thumb when talking Rugby of either code is first to ask if they think Rugby League is stop start...if they say yes then I'll ask can we talk x factor instead, as any intelligent conversion is surely doomed....

    For those worried that Sam Tomkins will suffer from burn out, and instead needs take a break.....He'll get a well paid break playing Union:
    research by leading sports statistics company Opta shows that, in Super League, the ball stays in play for an average of 50 to 55 minutes during an 80-minute match, compared to 30 to 35 minutes in rugby union......(that’s staggering Elliot wouldn’t you agree?)

    In football, the ball is in play for approximately 50 minutes during a 90-minute match.

    enjoy your Rugby Union.....but dont spout inaccurate rubbish about it...

  • Comment number 79.

    Is Sam Tompkins so special? he did nothing for Wigan in the final stages of the play-offs. When you put him under pressure he folds, as we have seen on many occations. As for league players being bigger and fitter than union, well not any more. I have followed and played in both codes, now times they are a-changing, no longer would Wigan or Saints take on union in 7s like they could. I would fancy Ospreys over Wigan any day of the week, and I am a fan of both teams. However get him down the gym and on a proper diet,no pies, and he would be more than welcome at the Liberty :)

  • Comment number 80.

    Sorry to be cynical but ST's inclusion raises the interest and may put more bums on seats. As we all know recent Baa-Baas game have not sold out at Twickenham.

    Secondly I suspect this was not a chance invitation arranged a matter of days ago. ST was probably sounded out some time ago and it was kept under wraps until both his brothers move to Sarries and his new contract at Wigan had been signed sealed and delivered. Great work by his agent, who see the opportunity to raise ST's profile and sell a few more named Nike boots and raise his image rights. Are image rights outside the RL salary cap?

    In spite of that hope he enjoys it and plays well

  • Comment number 81.

    SBW was the best prospect NZ have produced in the league game in the last 20 years. He had ample time to prove himself in union, & for all his worth & Henry trying to make room for him in the NZ team he still couldnt make himself a starter.

    Facts are facts. Unless you believe that northerners are born with better genetics than the rest of those in the UK, then to say league has better athletes playing their game than union is deepily flawed. Stats are stats. The league playing pool is minute compared to union.

    When league was at its peak they still pilfered second rate Welsh players who went on to earn GB caps; seriously how can a union player like Dai Young, a prop, who was renowned for scrummaging, & NOTHING else, get signed when league was at its peak from union, that was still amateur!!!

    Anyone who would even try & put up an argument against the likes of Samoa being able to destroy a GB team within 3 years if Samoa solely concentrated on league is bordering on retarded & yet you leaguers will. Just accept that you invented a game that is asthetically more attrative than union but one that even Mike Tindall, at his age & with all his flaws, would excel at. Wigan for gods sake tried to sign Gareth Thomas, at the age of 36. & theyre meant to be a world class league side.

    Manu is meant to be a prospect in Union at the age of 20; can you imagine the carnage he'd cause in league! Jason Robinson was a freak in either code; Wendall Sailor was either the best or second best winger in league, depending on who you listened to in league, but was an embarrassment in Union & should have never have been picked by Australia.

    Ellery Hanley would have been been the best player in Union at the time, if he had switched, irrespective of who was professional. Roginson was of a similar ilke. But the likes of Joel Tomkins? Are you kidding me? He'll be back in some league second team befor he has 3 starts in union!!! As for Tom, we'll have him!!!!

  • Comment number 82.

    Well I for one hope he has a good day out. In all probability he'll get a good few runs, perhaps he will have the odd howler at the breakdown, and hopefully it'll all be good entertainment. I can see that there are worries about injuries, but this is likely to be more in the nature of an exhibition game. Whilst played seriously, nobody on either side will be putting in the hits as if it's a final or something.

    As for those who want to use this thread to diss either code, shame on you! Each code has differing skills to enjoy. Generally League is more free running and there are more tries, but with the extra players in Union, there is more emphasis on drawing players in to make the gaps.

    Which we prefer tends to be decided in our formative years. The number of fans of both codes show that both codes are good entertainment sports. Leave prejudices to football fans, I say. They're better at it. For that matter, it seems, so are the players.

  • Comment number 83.

    Yesterday I said to a co-worker: "There's a Baa-Baa's game on tomorrow." He knew about it, but was curious about who the Baa-Baas had picked. He clicked on the BBC Rugby Union website. The page about the game came up with the picture of Sam Tompkins. "Who's Tompkins," he said. "He plays League for Wigan," I said. "This must be the Rugby League page," he said, recoiling from the keyboard like he'd touched a poisonous snake. I pointed out it was the Union page and the Baa-Baas had picked one of the best young League players. He was clearly horrified.
    Stereotypical but sadly true. A public school boy totally mind locked. Why? I'm in my late 60's and went to a Union playing grammar school in Surrey. I like both codes, why are people on both sides of this meaningless divide so immovably prejudiced?

  • Comment number 84.

    Sam Tomkins is one wonderfull player and will shine where ever and what ever code he plays. We in Rugby league should be proud of our game and I beleive that by Sam playing in this game he will promote Rugby League at the highest level within this country. My only sad point is the BBC will not be televising the game. Good luck to Sam

  • Comment number 85.

    Bick - My original comment was a reaction against some of the anti union comments on this thread. I do stand by them though and as I said if the teams play cynically it is worse than when it is played well. I like rucks and mauls and I like forwards. BTW they aren't just 'fat blokes'. Look at Courtney Laws or Ritchie McCaw.

    I think it is something that you have to play to really understand. Also, players like Pocock or Warbarton would not exist if this aspect of the game did not exist. I think union is richer for it. If you only want to see the backs play then fair enough watch league. I, personally, find it boring.

  • Comment number 86.

    I came to the UK about 30odd years ago and knew nothing about either code, didn't even know there existed 2 different codes. So I watched them both, with explanations from my brother-in-law who played union but liked to watch league. After only 2 months I found RL utterly boring, it seemed simply to consist of the ball being played backwards through the legs and then hoofed up the pitch. Been a Union man ever since. Have tried to watch RL many times since, having read how "exciting and fast" it allegedly was. Even watched highlights of England v Oz last week. Highlights! Still boring. Anyway, all this weeping about someone playing for another "code" is ridiculous. Nobody batted an eyelid when Alistair Hignell (England RU fullback) decided to play cricket for England, and then went back to RU. Wasn't some Arsenal player before WWII also an England cricket captain? Or vice versa? No fuss made about that then. All I can offer RL: Get some cod to go with the chips on your shoulders.

  • Comment number 87.

    I love the utter hypocrisy from so many RU fans, or maybe it's just delusion and BS, they claim RL is slow, RL fans have chips on their shoulders, RU players are now somehow fitter than League players, or even that League players have lower skill levels.
    What does it say about RU fans that so many have to come on blogs like this and spout such drivel, do they realise what they're typing and don't they understand just how petty minded their BS makes them appear?

    This Ba-Bas match will tell us nothing about how Sam may cope in Union, he's had so little training in the sport that he should make hardly an impact at all, if he does have a good game all that'll prove is he's as good a player as any currently plying their trade for the RFU, but then again only the totally deluded could think that such a talented player wouldn't be able to cross codes (either way) if they do so when still being so young.
    Of the players who have crossed codes at the very top level, very few have been as good once they changed codes as they were in their original sport, as too many have changed too late in their career to adapt and even if you do it when still maturing, their is still no guarantee of sucess.

    Good luck to Sam, even though it's a pointless exercise putting a ball handler and playmaker on the wing, at least it's just a one-off publicity stunt.

  • Comment number 88.

    87: Yep there's much criticism of RL by RU fans. But as much criticism the other way. Hypocracy? Don't know about that. Prejudice? Probably nearer the mark. I'd rather watch a game of either code than listen to the drivel of those trying to criticise the code they don't follow. Now that IS boring!

    But as you finish, it's an exhibition match and hopefully will be enjoyable to watch but will not really prove too much of anything.

  • Comment number 89.

    @85, Elliot: "I think it is something that you have to play to really understand." You hit the nail on the head with that statement... and that's precisely why League appeals to a broader public (when/if they're given the chance to be exposed to the game in a world dominated by Union-friendly media).
    League's a simple sport on purpose and is only under-exposed and "less popular" thanks to a century of oppression that only formally ended in 1995; while Union's complicated and inaccessible thanks to a century spent promoting and protecting the game instead of developing it beyond the 19th century.

  • Comment number 90.

    Don't worry boys just watched the barbara's and there is nothing to worry about - some TV exec will get that sort of tedious Rugby sorted out soon enough !! The crowd were reduced to sorting there own entertainment out !!

    Got a GREAT suggestion, now that RL has to source players for both codes, why don't the RU fund RL instead of funding Rob Andrew ???? Everyone's a winner !!

  • Comment number 91.

    HKRobininBelgrade - so erm... League is better because it is easier to understand?

    Surely football is king then?

  • Comment number 92.

    football is too limiting to play (no hands, no hits, limited set plays) and too frustrating to watch (hardly any scores, no big hits on irritating 'showboaters').

    Professionalism forced rugby league to find ways of broadening its appeal to a wider audience. The game had to be quicker, crisper, more of a spectacle and less of a mystery. Thus, certain elements that remain embedded at the heart of rugby union to this day were abolished. The line-out (abolished 1897), the ruck and rolling maul (replaced with a ‘play-the-ball’ after every tackle in 1906), the two extra men making the others lazy (the number of players was reduced from 15 to 13 in 1906), the constant kicking for territory and marking fair catches etc., were all deemed factors slowing the game down, rendering it unappealing to non-enthusiasts/experts of rugby, and were, consequently, all abolished.
    Without the cumbersome periods of play where the ball is seemingly up the jumper of some fat bloke surrounded by his friends, or is being kicked out again and again, league was able to develop as a ball-in-hand, high octane collision sport relying on differing angles of run, slight of hand, set-play attacking formations, in-field kicks in open play etc.
    Union remains more or less what league was prior to a century of innovation and evolution.

  • Comment number 93.

    HKRobininBelgrade - The question was rhetorical.

    A century of evolution and innovation? Seems that the changes took place over 9 years (1897 - 1906).

    You've just described rugby-lite really. Plus, you've got to concede that if you like these aspects of the game then you are going to prefer the code that contains them. I think that the stereotype of union you have described doesn't exist either. If it is, why is union the more popular code?

  • Comment number 94.

    Paranoia comes to mind here, so what if he play's for the babaa's, what have league fans to worry about??, from an exhibition game to vichy france!!! in past decades league came waving cheque books for what, they wanted union players and it was union players that suffered for crossing codes and got the life bans for taking the money etc etc and before everyone jumps in-I know they didn't have to, but they did and thats excatly what Tomkins has done, in 1895 (I think) league broke away for money payments so have we not gone full circle with league stars coming over to union for money!!! Keith Seniors attitude is negative there is a big world outside of Lancashire and Yorkshire, lets just enjoy what ever code you follow and if any player moves over so what, it's no different to any of us moving jobs for better money or whatever is it??.

  • Comment number 95.

    Rugby Union is only more popular within a certain social economic group in the UK. Surveys of Football supporters indicate that the vast majority prefer Rugby League and will watch Rugby League, while avoiding Rugby Union. This social economic group usually reaches management and the decision making levels in industry. They decide to put the money into Rugby Union sponsorship. Since the advent of Sky TV across Europe there has been consistent and alarming (If you follow Rugby Union) growth of Rugby League. The Heineken broadcasts are not achieving the same results for Rugby Union. The same social economic group, in Australia, tried, several years ago, to push sponsorship money away from RL to RU. Their advertising men told they were fools. Lets be honest, the popularity of RU is a remnant of the class division that has hampered Britain and other European Countries for generations. The unethical means that RU uses to suppress RL is typical of a code that names its pinnacle trophy after a myth. William Webb Ellis never did pick up the ball and run. The behavior of RU towards RL in Fiji and the Cook Islands, recently has been appalling and actually helped the growth of RL. These Pacific Islands RU's behavior has been nearly as bad as the French RU.

  • Comment number 96.

    I still believe that the main reason Union seems to be more 'popular' than League has very little to do with Unions disgusting policy of trying to kill off League wherever it was played, nor does it have much to do with the 'class' grouping of its followers, it's because of how the sports have been run.
    League has primarily been a club sport for the fans, where the clubs were always at the heart of the local community and the international matches were just a few matches every few years, Union was primarily an international game where the clubs were basically just private members clubs who had very little to do with their local community.
    This is bourne out in the crowds both codes got up until Union followed the money men and became a pro sport, few ever went to watch Union club matches, but the international game always had a large following where many tens of thousands of 'old school tie' types met up a few times a year, but hardly even thought of the game in between these matches.
    League was always about working men (and women) meeting up after a week in the pit, the mills (or wherever they worked) and socialising around a sport where the players were one of their own, the club being at the very heart of the local community, because of this crowds for club matches were quite big.
    Money, tv coverage (extra money) and sponsorship (even more money) has altered the way Union is run and its club game has gone from strength to strength, League however got stuck in its ways fighting a losing battle, thwarted on all sides whenever and wherever it tried to expand.
    The thing is, Union only went pro because Wigan were rumoured to be trying to sign Lomu and the IRB was scared of losing its brightest young star to League, which is odd really as the sport was never truly amateur anyway.
    Over the years many top players got 'expenses' and other 'gratuities' that would rival what most League players were paid, though I've no doubt that Wigan would have made Lomu one of the highest paid sportsmen in Britain had the signed him, something even the Union players getting the highest 'expenses' couldn't dream of at the time and that's why many League fans really do despise Union, because of its hypocrisy.

  • Comment number 97.

    League needs to get over itself, never heard so much rubbish as to the above posts, its got nothing to do with mills and community, the Northern Union was formed for one reason only MONEY because they wanted out of pocket expenses, they even played the first games of LEAGUE under UNION rules until they decided what part of union they didn't want (see above posts for confirmation) as to the social groups attached to each code, league, would be seem to be confirming that they have an inferiority complex, as a scot I had the pleasure of watching a game of union at North Manchester rugby club near Blackley (I think) I was visiting relatives and after the game in their club house I was made most welcome, if ever your in that part of the world go and see for yourselves and play the what social group is here game. Also your game went Pro over a hundred years ago, where's all the money gone to take your game forward only now do you hear of new stadiums because the owners and your governing body have woken up to the needs of the 21st century, two domestic clubs deducted points for going into administration over finanical matters??, a license system to stay in the top tier with various conditions A B and C Licenses?? and a high handed attitude towards the French on the international stage because someone deemed them not good enough for?? people in glass houses etc etc. League is League and Union is Union let it stay that way and stop comparing the two with the past, and both codes concentrate on its futures if players want to cross over let them and we follow which ever code we want.
    P.S. for the record I follow both codes, Union Live and League on TV (sky)

  • Comment number 98.

    I had to reply to #97 comments. From what I've read, the reasons for the 1895 split were really about the RFU keeping control of the game from the increasingly successful northern sides. The RFU allowed a national county championship in 1889 and in the first 8 years it was won by Yorkshire 7 times and Lancashire the other time. It wasn't just about 'out of pocket expenses' as #97 claims, these were called 'broken time' payments and were required as the northern clubs had mostly working class players who were unable to play away games without these payments and even turning out for a home game was an achievement. Many were miners and were paid only when they were hewing coal, travelling to and from the surface was in the employee's time, and had to forego pay to play rugby. The clubs were faced with not having their best players on the pitch without 'broken time' payments.

    But it wasn't only these payments that caused the split. The RFU decided to extend the definition of 'professionalism' to include playing on a ground where gate money was taken, and also any game played with less than 15-a-side. They knew some northern clubs were considering reducing the number of players to less than 15 to improve crowd appeal, in fact the RFU had even considered the option in 1892 !

  • Comment number 99.

    "Rugby Union is only more popular within a certain social economic group in the UK". Actually, you can remove parts of that quote to leave "Rugby Union is more popular". There are more going to watch Premiership matches than Superleague matches. Union internationals are invariably sold out and globally that is also the case, with of course some exceptions.

    League can moan about how unfair that is, that Union is a horrible game and it only got to be more poular because of historically unfair tactics, but how about selling League for what it is, a fast moving, engaging, different game. Stop whingeing about Union and the history and look to the future.

    Some posters above have wondered whether the two codes would ever combine. I don't think that's ever going to happen. There's more liklihood of League disappearing altogether. (No, I don't think that'll happen either.)

    It seems to me that the majority of posters here revel in trying to "diss" RU rather than push the obvious qualities of RL. My view is: Good luck RU, now let's get weaving with RL.

  • Comment number 100.

    In reply to #98 I wasn't around in 18canteen so if my aunty had gonads she'd be my uncle, the northern union players wanted paid, got paid and the northern union broke away, are we to assume then that entry to games was free in 18canteen and the mill owners or pit owners took money off the players for not working, or lets have the community pay to get in and give the owners their own money back from gate reciepts, as for Yorkshire and Lancashire teams winning all the time so what?? what's that got to do with money, as posted earlier get over yourelves!!!!


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