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Union or league, which is better?

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John Beattie | 16:38 UK time, Monday, 23 August 2010

What's better, rugby union or rugby league?

I have spent my whole life without having watched TV on a Tuesday or Thursday night because, your honour, they are rugby training nights. If you are rugby people you know what I mean.

Soon, when people ask if I have watched a programme I will be able to say no every day because it's weight training on a Monday and Wednesday night from now on.

The only problem in the old days was missing Top of the Pops and a potential Led Zeppelin, AC DC or Status Quo performance.

wigan_bath_595.jpgLuckily the Scottish professional rugby teams have started playing on a Friday night too and we cover them on the radio so that's another night out. It's almost a badge of honour.

How good it is to be back on the air. I never thought I would write this next line: I have missed Peter Wright.

Watching Sale Sharks play Glasgow in a friendly last Friday my mind drifted though. Glasgow are lighter, more aerobic animals and Sale, the winners, are powerful.

The tackles were ferocious and at one stage there were some fisticuffs and we were down to fourteen a side. The game opened up a little.

Almost rugby league and I wondered to myself: would rugby league lads handle this or are they tougher? Whose game is better?

Confession time here: I love rugby league. I watch their tackle technique, they way they drill their forearm into the face of the tackled player when he is on the ground, and their running lines.

I don't mind the shambolic scrums because their game is a passing and handling feast. The bravery taking the ball into contact at full speed is admirable, and their ability to spot an overlap shows a vision that not many union players possess.

League, of course, arose because working men needed paid to take time off their jobs to play rugby on a Saturday.

In an attempt to attract a crowd to pay them they did away with what they thought of as rugby's boring bits - lineouts and real scrums - made more space by taking two men off the pitch, and vowed to provide more entertainment.

And I think it works. I hate union's snobby view of the 13-man game.

But can you call one game better than the other? For instance does it mean anything that more countries have adopted rugby union or is that a quirk of its slightly more public school background?

League's hotbeds are the North of England, the cities of Australia and New Zealand, and some large swathes of Papua New Guinea.

Is union, with its greater number of facets and shapes and sizes a better game almost exclusively because of that? Is the tactical element of rugby union with its lineouts and scrums and kicks for territory more appealing?

Or is it better to watch constant movement and a game where catching, passing, and tackling are the key skills?

I went to Wigan v Bath at Twickenham in 1996, but it wasn't a fair contest. Wigan had Henry Paul, Martin Offiah, Andy Farrell, Jason Robinson and Shaun Edwards, but Bath had scrums and rolling mauls.

You can still see Wigan's three breathtaking tries on YouTube.

My opinion? I prefer real scrums and I like lineouts so it's union for me. Or maybe...

Right, what excuse can I drag up for Sunday nights?


  • Comment number 1.

    Rugby Leagues advancement was also partly held back by the ridiculous position of the IRB to ban any player who dared give it a go. It was only in 1996 that those laws where removed.

    Even playing RL on an RU pitch could 'professionalise' the pitch!

    Playing amateur RL could get you a ban. This led to RL struggling to gain any foothold in universities and the armed forces for example.

    You could play professional football, cricket, American Football, etc but would be banned for life for playing RL.

  • Comment number 2.

    One of my (many) issues with rugby league is the way that players basically need one set of skills and that's it. A RL 'prop' requires pretty much the same skillset as a RL 'full back'. There's not a heck of a lot of difference. Union requires a far broader skillset across the team. Although it's not as true as it used to be, is you have a union prop and a union winger standing next to each other it's absolutely clear who's who.

    I also think union is the more tactical game, partially because of this wider range of skills. More positional kicking, the ability to dominate any of the set phases or the breakdown; these mean that the tactical variation is bigger in union than it is in league, where it's basically handling, speed and angles.

    I find league pretty boring most of the time to be honest - an occasional great game, and a lot to admire if you get off on watching pure technique, but I generally turn the telly over to something else if it comes on.

  • Comment number 3.

    I have to admit that in the days of Eddie Waring and the "Up and under" back in the 70's I had no time for rugby League. To me it was boring and slow compared with Union. Roll forward 40 years and the position has been reversed. Union is now slow and ponderous compared with League and worse still is often lacking in sporting entertainment and skill by comparison.

    I still go to watch Edinburgh, Glasgow and Scotland play but I can't help feeling that I am paying a lot of money when 5 of the 80 minutes is spent re-setting the scrum every match.

    I would be curious to know too whether as many professional League players go under the surgeon's knife as do those playing Union due to the different nature of the game?

    In conclusion however, there is not a simple solution for Union without totally changing the game. Watching League just means that there is another alternative and exciting sport to enjoy as well as the increasingly frustrating Union.

  • Comment number 4.

    Having played both games to a resonable standard for me Rugby League is a more exciting game to play and watch. Rugby union nowadays is one dimensional. to me since Rugby union went open the game has lost its unpredictability on the field and become very sterile to watch.

  • Comment number 5.

    "One of my (many) issues with rugby league is the way that players basically need one set of skills and that's it. A RL 'prop' requires pretty much the same skillset as a RL 'full back'. There's not a heck of a lot of difference. Union requires a far broader skillset across the team. Although it's not as true as it used to be, is you have a union prop and a union winger standing next to each other it's absolutely clear who's who."

    Yes it would be terrible to have players, forwards and backs, who can pass, run, tackle, draw a man, dummy, run an angle...terrible skill set to have :-)

    I suppose the fat and tall lads get something to do with their special skills.

  • Comment number 6.

    Bit off subject but I've been following the Hall of Fame choices. I voted for the 90's as the best era and was delighted to see that win. Now looking at the candidates for the individual vote and I think most of them are spot on and are worthy choices. The one I find a bit of an odd choice is Bryan Redpath. Obviously he was a great player and i'm not making any comment about his playing ability but would he be a Scotland legend above others? I would have had Gregor Townsend or Finlay Calder in there perhaps? All the other choices are 100% spot on! Big Gav for me!!!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Rugby Leagues advancement was also partly held back by the ridiculous position of the IRB to ban any player who dared give it a go. It was only in 1996 that those laws where removed.

    Even playing RL on an RU pitch could 'professionalise' the pitch!

    Playing amateur RL could get you a ban. This led to RL struggling to gain any foothold in universities and the armed forces for example.

    You could play professional football, cricket, American Football, etc but would be banned for life for playing RL

    Make up your mind. First you guys claim that league and rugby have the same roots and now your complaining that people from other professional sports can play rugby but not league players.
    Rugby league was its own worst enemy because with all its professionals and money it didn't want to leave its comfort zone of Northern England, NSW and Queensland.

  • Comment number 8.

    Yes it would be terrible to have players, forwards and backs, who can pass, run, tackle, draw a man, dummy, run an angle...terrible skill set to have :-)

    I suppose the fat and tall lads get something to do with their special skills.

    All league and rugby players have those set of skills. The rugby players can also scrum, ruck, maul, lineouts, clean out and follow and contest the ball.

  • Comment number 9.

    I played RU at school level and my local team back in the late 70's and early 80's. The game was completely different then, when you kicked , you kicked for touch, unlike now where the ball is kept in play and you have this complete nonsense of the ball being kicked backwards and forwards sometimes for up to 3 to 4 minutes at a time.

    It is boring ,repetitive and quite frankly dreadful to watch , the game is now so dependant on defence, tackling and kicking that there is no longer any flair in the game whatsoever. Even the great running French teams of years gone by are a thing of the past. The changes to the game in my view have not helped the free flowing game that I loved to play and the game has got worse to watch as a spectacle.

    RL on the other hand has improved beyond all recognition, and is no longer the up'n'under game of Eddie Wairing, it has become faster as the players fitness has improved and is a much better game to watch now when the ball is played to hands , there is more ingenuity, more thought and is far more exciting and better to watch now than RU.

    Who would have thought after all these years that the game of up'n under would be played by RU teams, and the game of fast free flowing rugby with ball to hand would now be RL. Its a complete role reversal and RU is suffering greatly because of it.

  • Comment number 10.

    Several things here

    RL is a much better game to watch now as the players (as in most sports ) are better conditioned than in the past. The game is faster than in the 70's / 80's
    I feel this is largely due to the fact that RL took a good look at it'self and re-invented by moving to Summer season. Players are running about with the sun on their backs, the ball is not like a bar of soap; playing surfaces are not the mudbaths that they used to be and the crowd numbers are fantastic. They are not afraid to switch match days and kick off times to avoid clashes with other sports in order to maximise attendances. Eg I'd rather watch a match on a Sunday afternoon than a Friday night and I'd rather do that in the Summer months than the Winter.

    RL scrums are a nonsense, but is this a bad thing.. The art of scrummaging in Union is being eroded away as players are not attuned to playing their position from an early age. (Colin Deans Dad was a hooker so Colin Deans was destined to be a hooker) and there is far too much tinkering with the laws coupled with ajudication by referees who have little or no idea of what is going on in the front rows. Scrums are constantly being reset rather than let 2 props of equal ability sort things out themselves. We in union have different laws for scrummaging for various age groups throughout the game which I feel is wrong. Front row play is an art and indeed a career long learning curve.
    I say we either standardise scrummaging laws across all age groups in union or we do away with the competetive scrum as in League where they are guaranteed posession from their own put in then the game moves swiftly on.

    Since professionalism, I feel that Union has become a stale turgid multi-phased, defence orientated game; Certainly not the spectacle of running rugby brought into our living rooms by the Irvine's, Campese's Renwicks etc of the pre-pro era. Perhaps if we brought in a 6 phase then turnover concept then we might not have to suffer big heavy men running into other big heavy men with little or no territorial gain. We might see the ball moved to space a bit more and then the game would once more be all about elusive runners and would certainly be more attractive to watch.

    League has no line outs. Union has lineouts where large 18 / 19 stone men are being lifted and suspended to a height of say, 5 or 6 feet off the ground. What goes up must come down and even 18 stone being brought back to earth slowly by the lifters runs the risk of injury to joints and or soft tissue (watch out for medical reports in 20 yrs time). League restarts with another set of 6 and we are immediately back in to a running and ball handling game which is a crowd spectacle.

    In short I am unable to say which is the 'better' sport but I do feel that both codes have some great points that make them what they are.
    In conclusion I would not bet against one merged form of rugby in 50 or so years time.

  • Comment number 11.

    A french(Senlis)point of view.
    Not the same historical, public schools versus working men class did not exist.
    In France, originaly as you know, Union was played mainly in south ouest in villages.
    Nowdays spread out the country, but the main thing(the reason i enjoy it so much compare to soccer), this sport is played by doctors, plumbers, electricians, engineers, farmers, etc...
    Excellent to meet people from different environments, help you to not to be narrow minded.
    So no private club, that is why were are so lucky to have facilities and pitches paid by the mairie (all the community).
    John, a recent debate about stadiums, a town like Senlis (15000 people) north of Paris (so, not the hot bed of rugby)we have 2 pitches and a club house, not with race tracks and athletics, exclusively for the PRACTICE of RUGBY.
    Rugby league not popular in France except in Perpignan.

    "is it better to watch constant movement and a game where catching, passing, and tackling are the key skills?"
    Sorry, I don't no why, but i'm bored after ten minutes of Rugby League.

    Off subject, but a word about the Hall of Fame,
    For me(47), Gary ARMSTRONG is the legend,never seen a hard and brave player like him!

  • Comment number 12.

    While I'm a much bigger League fan than Union, both codes can have their good and bad games. The difference for me though depends on where its played. Union in the northern hemisphere (at club level) is awful, truely boring, the majority of the time, whereas (up until a couple of years ago) it was the exact opposite for League. In the southern hemisphere club Union is quite good to watch but in the NRL the players are so good at the basics alot of games are fairly dull despite the fact you do get the brilliance of the likes of Hayne, Inglis etc. In the northern hemisphere though, over the past couple of seasons, Leagie is starting to become similar to the NRL. Not in terms of quality but in terms of style of play and alot more games of League at Super League level are becoming more boring and I hope that this is just a phase and doesnt happen long term.

    Both codes have had massive attendences in the UK, although league has had the bigger by some margin due to the Challenge Cup finals over the years (depending on club Wembley tickets, as the rest have sold out, this Saturdays final will have a bigger attendance than any northern hemisphere Union game this year, and think it may only be beaten by the SA vs NZ Soccer City game globally). But Unions biggest crowds are generally internationals will obviously generate alot of money, hence the spread of Union internationally as the IRB has tons more to spend abroad. The IRB can actually target areas to develop whereas League depends on volunteers starting the game up. This is Leagues fault for not focussing on internationals enough. I mean playing an international in Leigh which holds under 12k, when 6 years ago they got a crowd of around 40k at Man Citys ground is stupid.

  • Comment number 13.

    Unfortunately, I agree with #9 Fife_ger comments, about the boring French Rugby Union games too.
    The most annoying is, the style is the same for each country of the 6 Nations.
    Mainly because the game is professionnal, so top players from every country can adapt and play in every top clubs.

  • Comment number 14.

    There's only one way to find out.....

  • Comment number 15.

    John my boy - for the love of Oprah, probably the easiest question that you've ever asked.
    Remove the tactical kicking aspect from play (as league does) and you remove a huge dimension and a myriad of opportunities for broken field play. Then you remove set pieces as a realistic battle (as league does) and the resulting opportunity to gain an advantage: whoops, you appear to have removed the need for genuine specialists and therefore diversity amongst the size and shape of players.
    Union is chess, league is chequers.
    Just my nostalgia soaked opinion, so go easy on me.

  • Comment number 16.

    As most rugby followers in Scotland, I've been immersed in Union at the expense of League. But since starting a courtship with Leeds born GF, I've found myself more and more spending Friday nights watching Super League. And like JB I have began to appreciate certain aspects of the game and enjoy the pace, tackling and high level of skill(s) involved. But I feel there is more flow to Union, and there is something gladdening to watch a scrum or lineout operating perfectly.

  • Comment number 17.

    Having grown up in Yorkshire, and lived in NSW as well as Scotland, I enjoy a good game of both, and am bored by a poor game of either...
    I've often wondered if RU could be improved by keeping the laws essentially the same but removing one or two forwards to create more space, especially in second phase and beyond.
    As an aside, if we want to improve RU participation and skills in Scotland, we should play in the summer - which is similar to the NSW winter anyway!
    And before any die-hards get too sniffy about RL, it's interesting to note (and meant not at all as derogatory) that the mini rugby played in Scotland - which I think is excellent by the way - is not so different from league: so we train our kids to play union by playing something like league!

  • Comment number 18.

    As a front row forward Union is a far better, more interesting and tactical game to play, the set piece and breakdown are my bread and butter, in League I am purely a battering ram,
    But, I am an avid follower of Wigan and have been for 23 years and I love watching them, League at the top level is faster, its also easier for the uninitiated to follow and understand,

    They are both great games but Union has it for me.

  • Comment number 19.

    the thing that always astounded me about league was how unbelievably fit the players were, and this was back in the 80s/early 90s. i mean, they were knocked to the ground and they were up again in one second, but even in that intervening second, they were bucking and writhing and kicking. just pure unadulterated strength and stamina.
    from a pure entertainment angle, i think league is the better game.

  • Comment number 20.

    Having played both at pretty reasonable levels, I would say that a poor game of Union is still better to play and watch than a poor game of League but a good game of League is better to watch and play than Union.

    Having been at a Union playing school, I switched to League at university and my skill and fitness levels came on massively as the League game is faster and there are less places to hide on the pitch. To the point of the League positions being interchangeable, I agree to a certain degree as I am a Union Centre and a League prop - although I dont think I could do it the other way round, but I have played with people who can and have.

    Just in case you weren't aware, League is getting stronger in Scotland, with the Scotland Amateur side recently winning the 2010 Home Nations - now several amateur members of the squad now looking to be picked for the Full professional squad who are looking to be the 4th side in the 4 Nations competition in Australia later this year. that wouldnt happen in Union with amateur squad members making it into the 6N squad or the RWC squad.

    Now based in Budapest, I am back to playing Union as any form of rugby out here is still relatively unheard of!

  • Comment number 21.

    John: No contest! Union by a chunk! I like my line-outs; I like my real scrums. Union is the beautiful game, while League, to my view at least, looks like a stripped down version of it

  • Comment number 22.

    Union fan first but I do love to watch rugby league. I won't go for the whole 'oh union is so boring etc.' I have seen my fair share of boring league matches and I there are fewer "great" league matches that stick in the memory for me.
    The new laws and initiatives by the IRB have opened up the game again with the emphasis on attacking play. Anybody who watched the end the last couple of months of the (NH) union season and the summer internationals will know that this has led to more attractive rugby and the move away from the endless kicking we saw before that. Now the ref is on the side of the attacking side which is why teams such as Northampton, Leicester and the All Blacks have been successful. And even during that period where union went downhill, there were many sides more than willing to run the ball and attack.

    You can argue that League is the purer form but I will go for union everytime.

  • Comment number 23.


    I went from a junior (back row) unionist to professional (2nd/front row) leaguer in the early nineties and I'm pretty sure you would have loved it - once you had increased your fitness and got used to the increased physicality!

    We had a few top-level union players start training with us and we used to lay bets about how long it would be before they cramped up - usually after about 30 mins!

    I was glad to be able to 'retire' back to the junior union ranks - where life was a lot less painful!

  • Comment number 24.

    The Bath v Wigan games were pointless and proved nothing. It was a bunch of professionals (wigan) who were professional for years against a bunch of amateurs (bath)

    A silly money making game.

    Both League and Union have their merits and the wigan team was a great team of superstars. But Union is the better game. It's like Chess v Draughts . Chess being like union with so much more involved and Draughts being like League which is a much more simplified game

  • Comment number 25.

    Me again.

    I do think conditions make a huge amount of difference here in the Uk. League is primarily played in the Spring and Summer so they will experience a lot more dry days than Union players. Saying that it doesn't excuse some of the poor skills i've seen from top level union players but the conditions dictate the style of play on show.

  • Comment number 26.

    Dwmacleod (post 2) and concurring posts said it for me. The specialisations in Union generate tactical complexity which makes every game interesting. I don't begrudge League followers their pleasures, but I do consider legislative moves to make Union more like League (for instance, measures to make it less worthwhile to contest rucks) to be retrograde, and journalistic folklore which has the same effect (for instance believing that the ball must be kept in hand at all costs and at all times) to be positively morbid.

    Sure, the result of Union's complexity can be grim struggles with little in the way of crowd-pleasing flamboyance. Bring it on: we'll rejoice in those contests too. There's more to Union than the big, fast blokes monotonously bashing through the little, slow blokes, and long may it remain so.

  • Comment number 27.

    Great article...the answer is that of course both codes are simly great. I've seen some great RU games - mainly internationals - the fact a the result affects a nation makes it exciting, however for pure skills its RL everytime.


    Watch a State of Origin match !!!!!!!!! Enough said, tho doubt if any RU purist could handle the skills on show. Maybe watch te recent Wigan Saints game, blood gut and skills to beyond the final whistle - then hand shakes alround - certainly somethin I want my children to watch and learn from.

    If RU is SOOOOO good why was RL banned (ex pro's at football for for Wales at RU...but RL was banned), why was ARL banned in the armed forces - the British Army spread RU around the world, but could not do the sames for RL (can now and watch it spread)(why oh why was it banned ????). Why also was it banned in the police ??? In the late 1980s the Met police team was banned form the Mets own facilties - ironically they had to play at a RU club - money over the bar spoke for that club !!

    Perhaps RU journos should write about the lack of blackplayers in RU unitl fairly recently or why there have been so many RU rule changes(RU needs to look like RL as its rulers are ruled by money). Sky etc call the shots. RU is ironically now about money and viewing figures, its not about the speccie - look at the ticket prices for forhcoming Ireland internationals, they make your eyes water !! It will move closer and closer towards RL as having the ball in play is better than the crowd having it !!

    Finally why did the French RU collaborate with the Nazi aligned Vichy government, steal FRL money and ban the sport ???????? WHY ???? Interesting to note no apology has ever been received, let alone the considerable bank balance. Perhaps someone is ashamed ??

    Reason for the above (plus many many many) other examples is that RU officials, well educated and in positions of power abused their positions to keep RL down. They stopped people playing sport...they should be ashamed.

    Recent places where RL has played: Moscow, Riga, Kazan, Beruit, Jamaica, Washington DC, Serbia, Malta, Germany, Dublin, Glasgow, Cardiff, UAE etc. Small acorns, but a mighty sport !!

  • Comment number 28.

    Perhaps because of the history and the shape of the ball it is assumed that Union and League have something in common. They don't and might as well be considered different sports.
    An acid test of similarity is whether each code could play each other. Well they could not. The match played under Union rules would see the League props under severe danger of neck injury in the scrums, the League team would be wiped out in the lineout and the Union team would be able to produce 100m rolling mauls which the League team would have no way of legally stopping. None of this has anything to do with the skill level of the League team but simply reflects how different the games are. Turn the tables and Union team would struggle to play the League format.
    Neither is better, neither is worse. They are just different (although the berks that tweak the Union rules seem hell bent on making Union ever more similar to League).

  • Comment number 29.

    Rugby Union wins by a mile for me. No fancy or clever answers, as to why. I have watched league on tv on and off for nearly 40 years. Mainly when the welsh union players migrated in fairly large numbers.

    But even then i found the league game, boring and one dimensional.

    I don't want to watch basketball with contact. so scrums and lineouts suite me fine.

    Anyway i remember the days when a RU team could kick direct into touch from anywhere. The whole 80 mins could be a series of kicks to touch and not much else.

    When 6-0 was a huge score, but it was still hugely entertaining and spellbinding.

    I will stick with what i know and what i love.

  • Comment number 30.

    I play Union but League is by far the tougher and more skillful sport to play. I only play Union as I am now close to 40 and League is just too hard to play even at the lowest level. I never used to get cold playing league, or bored for that matter. Union is a decent sport but League is on another level.

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  • Comment number 34.


  • Comment number 35.

    I enjoy both games and both have their place in the world.

    Union will always be my preffered choice. I like the permanent contest for posession in all facets of the game.

    League still in a way seems like a highlight sport to me.

  • Comment number 36.

    poor yawnion fans, the most exciting tries scored at the english ground were scored by league players...shame.
    union never did anything for me - even less since the lad pretended to be bleeding to get a kicker on...heres an idea - why not go crazy and try score a try instead of lining up a kick, not only does it put your game into shame, it shows how boring it is when the sides go to that lengths to kick instead of spreading the play and going for it.
    say what you want about league but its far more entertaining, the players are far fitter, the ball is in play far more than in yawnion - where up to 10 minutes can be wasted waiting for nonsense scrums and pointless lineouts and there is far less cheating.

  • Comment number 37.

    looks like bias is alive and well but the need for both sports to compete in an ever conjested market place will make them both change and develope. Maybe a simplyfied version of the two will emerge. But as a league man the best level of any rugby being played is within NRL it is light years ahead of any code or competition.

  • Comment number 38.

    Some great comments but saying league only has a single skill set is absurd. Ask Gareth Thomas and I'm sure he will tell you otherwise. I played league and union all the way through my youth till the age on 18 and represented my province in both forms the game. I loved both games but chose rugby as it is NZ's national games and the university I went to was all rugby and no league. League has a limited skill set when compared to rugby. I do admit a league scrum is a waste of time but the game as a whole is incredible. Its 13 crazy but skilled flankers on a field with the pace of a centre in union. I found league more enjoyable than rugby due to the fact that you always received the ball and had no choice but defend. Where in rugby I had to go and look for the ball and average 10 tackles a game, and that was a good game for 10 tackles. The skill level across the park in league is far superior when it come to ball handling skills and tackling. I know this isn't the same context, but when I played touch rugby (bear with me) the leaguies where so much better than the union lads. Touch is very similar to league but the result was always one sided. I enjoy both codes of the game but union just has it over the league as speciaised positions in union make it that much more technical as a result harder to play.

  • Comment number 39.

    @mefan (post 12)

    The attendance argument doesn't really stand up in favour of League - yes the Challenge Cup Final will get approx. 90K (only more than the biggest games in Union because of the venue), and the Super League Final approx 75k - but beyond that?

    Stade Francaise played 5 regular season games (not finals) at the Stade de France last season - all of them greater than 75K attendance. Harlequins staged a game at Christmas infront of 76K at Twickenham, while Saracens managed over 50K at Wembley (again, regular season, not cup final!) The Heineken Cup Final is now big enough it would sell out any ground in a 6 Nations country - 80,000 at the Stade de France last season, and I am sure if it had been in Barcelona at the magnificent Camp Nou it would have been a 98,000 sell-out (Barcelona is closer to both Toulouse and Biarritz than Paris is!). Could the Challenge Cup Final fill the Stade de France or the San Siro? And this year the second-tier Challenge cup attracted a crowd of 50,000

    And another stat - average attendance at the 2008 RLWC - 16,000. Average attendance at the 2003 RWC (same country - australia) was 38,000, while the average in France 4 years later was 48,000.

    For another comparrison, the 1998 FIFA World Cup in france had an average attendance of 43,500.

    In the list of best-attended International sporting competitions, 3 of the top 4 are Rugby Union - RBS 6N's (70,000), FIFA WC (49,000), RWC (47,000) and Tri-nations (44,000). The main league competitions are found (4N's and RLWC are ranked 12 and 13 respectivly, behind Coppa America, FIFA Womens World Cup, Euro 2008, CONCACAF Gold Cup, AFC Asia Cup, The World Baseball Classic and the African Cup of Nations.

    The only single-sport events bigger than the RWC are the FIFA World Cup, and the Tour de France.

    Surely if League was a better sport, people would watch that rather than Union?

    On a different note, since I mentioned the competition above and it relates to last weeks blog: I feel absolutly gutted for your daughter John - missing out on qualification for next years world cup by a single point to Denmark, with 19 points out of a potential 24. The Danes scored 45 goals in 8 games, but could only manage 1 against Scotland (they beat Gerogia 15-0 at home, and drew 0-0 with Scotland)

    Why do Scotland always seem to miss out by an impossibly small margin? We really are due a bit of luck in international sport!!!

  • Comment number 40.

    I play League but Rugby is by far the tougher and more skillful sport to play and harder. I only play masters Rugby League as I am now close to 45 and Rugby is just too hard to play even at the lowest level. I never used to get cold playing Rugby because you have to chase the ball and not standing around waiting for the ball to come to you or bored for that matter. League is a decent sport but Rugby is on another level and you can tell that by the millions who play it and the millions and millions of fans who follow it.

  • Comment number 41.

    I play League but Rugby is by far the tougher and more skillful sport to play and harder. I only play masters Rugby League as I am now close to 45 and Rugby is just too hard to play even at the lowest level. I never used to get cold playing Rugby because you have to chase the ball and not standing around waiting for the ball to come to you or bored for that matter. League is a decent sport but Rugby is on another level and you can tell that by the millions who play it and the millions and millions of fans who follow it.

  • Comment number 42.

    I much prefer Union but I have seen rugby matches as boring as watching my garden grow. When the sides are determined to move the ball around, League can be a good spectacle but most of the games I have seen are hit up, hit up, hit up, hit up, hit up, kick; repeat the cycle with an occasional breakaway thrown in. For a few years I recorded both NRL and Super League games and, with few exceptions, found them most interesting when played on fast forward. That being said, I live in the USA and either code is several magnitudes more interesting than Gridiron, the sport which is a display of oversized men mostly standing around waiting to be told what to do.

  • Comment number 43.

    Brilliant, Blakenator! Go on: say more!

  • Comment number 44.

    I've always found the which code is better arguement more confined to the UK.

    Since moving to NZ in 2007, both codes are watched & enjoyed by fans alike. Maybe it's because the playing style of ball in hand is very similar. People in the Southern Hemisphere are more concerned with running attacking football than scrums & lineouts.

    I've always thought the NRL is the best football comp. To that testament the S14 has tried to model a similar playing comp.

    The UK seems more preoccupied by which one is the better code.

    Just enjoy both, but for me, the NRL is my preference.

  • Comment number 45.

    Judging by the "crowds" at Rugby Union and League matches,the difference in entertainment value is minimal compared with football.
    75,000 pack Old Trafford every time Manchester United play.
    Last season at a professional rugby union match,they had to hire 1000
    inflatable dummies to give the impression that a crowd was there.
    The actual crowd was just over 1300.

  • Comment number 46.

    Mefan says:

    "...(depending on club Wembley tickets, as the rest have sold out, this Saturdays final will have a bigger attendance than any northern hemisphere Union game this year, and think it may only be beaten by the SA vs NZ Soccer City game globally)"

    That'll be an improvement on 2009 then:

    82,208 - Munster v Leinster, Croke Park, 2 May - Heineken Cup Semi-Final
    81,601 - Leicester v London Irish, Twickenham, 16 May - Guinness Premiership Final
    79,842 - Stade Francais v Clermont Auvergne, Stade de France, 4 Apr - Top 14
    79,205 - Perpignan v Clermont Auvergne, Stade de France, 6 Jun - Top 14 Final
    79,122 - Stade Francais v Perpignan, Stade de France, 31 Jan - Top 14
    76,972 - Stade Francais v Perpignan, Stade de France, 24 Oct - Top 14
    76,716 - Harlequins v London Wasps, Twickenham, 27 Dec - Guinness Premiership
    76,560 - Huddersfield Giants v Warrington Wolves, 29 Aug, Carnegie Challenge Cup Final
    69,850 - Stade Francais v Bayonne, Stade de France, 5 Dec - Top 14

  • Comment number 47.

    As someone far cleverer than I once observed, the only similarities between League and Union are the use of the name rugby and the shape of the posts and ball. Why does everyone get so hung up about comparisons? Just enjoy each in isolation. I certainly do.

  • Comment number 48.


    With Rugby League the action finishes at the tackle.
    With Rugby Union that's just when the game starts to get interesting.

  • Comment number 49.


    With Rugby League the action finishes at the tackle.
    With Rugby Union that's just when the game starts to get interesting.

  • Comment number 50.

    I enjoy both games but I do prefer Union.

    However the biggest disadvantage that Union has over league is the administration. There is far too much tinkering with the rules in Union as a result it creates the game that you see today - with a lot of kicking.

    I don't think union players are any more or less skillful or fitter than league. Just different!

    The other thing is that Union is still a game for all shapes and sizes however I feel in League the saying that good big one is far better than a good little one is very true.

  • Comment number 51.


    I agree with many of the comments that Union was in danger of becoming sterile and boring due to the constant kicking to and fro etc. However after watching this year's tri-nations do I detect a change in mindset. Last Saturday's match between the All Blacks and S.Africa was as good an advert for the game as I've seen for a long time - even S.Africa had appeared to change their philosophy and were trying to play a running game. Last year's six nations match between Wales and Scotland was another wonderful example of two sides trying to play entertaining rugby.

    For me Union and League are 2 different games and good luck and success to both. The only thing I would say is that League doesn't generate the passion and excitement of the Six Nations, Tri-Nations and RWC - maybe it's just the different history of the 2 sports.

  • Comment number 52.

    Unfortunately we are served sub-standard rugby league in the UK possibly because the best players go to union. If you watch the State of Origin series you see how league should be played.

    Our Union serving isn't much better. Compare Super15 to the Premiership. It is night and day.

    The question can be answered at international level. The rugby league world cup was very poor as only 3 teams are competitive. The union world cup isnt much better however the Lions series is the pinnacle. Those last 3 tests against the Boks was simply the best rugby ever.

    Therefore I declare union the king of rugby.

  • Comment number 53.

    @ Hugh in France

    The popularity of rugby league has been heavily shaped by political events and may well have ended up as the more popular sport had the second world was not intervened. Marshal Petain banned rugby league in 1941 and seized it assets (which was labelled as a deviant variation of RU) at a time when league was flourishing and union was in decline. See this short article from the BBC website for a whistlestop history:

  • Comment number 54.

    Rugby was never in decline in France before the war. Its just that France were ejected from the Five Nations and had to settle playing rugby minors like Italy, Germany, Hungary and others. So, some event in France would make league more popular than rugby? Rugby was already played in more countries around the world before the war in 1939. Rugby was growing very fast and even the evnts in France would not have change a thing.
    Don't forget the French international rugby team and clubs were banned from playing international matches and the Five Nations in 1932 to 1947. When they were allowed back France won the Five Nations in 1954 and had a golden era in the 50's and 60's and 70's which is the main reason why rugby is so popular in France.
    Rugby league was its worse enemy as there were no plans to expand the game outside of Northern England, NSW and Queensland. An examble of this is the lack of professional clubs nationally in England and Australia where the code is strong.

  • Comment number 55.

    Wow, interesting comments

    At coaching tonight in Glasgow - almost dark at half past eight! Nights, as they say, are fair drawing in.

    Maybe another way to look at it is that having both codes keeps a healthy rivalry and I was trying to think of union players who might make it in league......Sean Lamont, Brian O'Driscoll, Banahan, Shane Williams - it's all the real bangers who have great skill as well.

    Had my injections for Delhi today - feel like a slightly sick and swollen pin cushion

  • Comment number 56.

    The_Voice says

    Judging by the "crowds" at Rugby Union and League matches,the difference in entertainment value is minimal compared with football.
    75,000 pack Old Trafford every time Manchester United play.
    Last season at a professional rugby union match,they had to hire 1000
    inflatable dummies to give the impression that a crowd was there.
    The actual crowd was just over 1300.

    I don't know where you got the idea this was about rugby and soccer but its not.
    Its about league and rugby so go and tell somebody who cares. Im not sure which professional English club got a crowd of 1300 in the Guiness Premiership last year but according to their website. No English club got a crowd that low in the Guiness premiership last year. I think you will find that some of the Superleague teams like Salford, Harlequins RL, Crusaders and others have had crowds closer 1300.

  • Comment number 57.

    Living in the North East, outside of the rugby league heartlands, I grew up playing union. I loved playing the game but also enjoyed watching rugby league. Having moved to yorkshire for university i gave league a try for the first time and havn't looked back since. After a couple of years of senior rugby union I found it became a bit stale while it had also became less of a spectacle to watch. The biggest difference as a back is your involvement in the game. Many more carries and many more tackles in league. I have however loved playing union when switched to the back row and involvement is more constant. The fitness levels are higher and hits much harder in league, as emphasised by Gareth Thomas after he switched (possibly an interview on BBC, possibly on Boots'n'All, I will try and track it down). I find the super league far more entertaining to watch than the guinness prem, but obviously that comes down to which code you prefer. The three Lions tests last summer were a fantastic watch however, mainly due to a physicality and aggression I hadn't seen in union before.

    LittleRew - Union being a game for all shapes and sizes is good for inclusion, particularly at junior level, but having giant props and beanpole second rows who's attributes required for scrum and lineouts mean they are often immobile and clumsy often detracts from the game as a spectacle. I acknowledge this is less applicable to heineken cup and international union where the skill sets and mobility of the front 5 is usually impressive but it can be seen week in week out as high as the premiership. Union may benefit by adopting unlimited rotation of front row players.

    The argument that a good big one will always beat a good little one in league is ridiculous - thinking of boxing maybe?

    Take an example from union. 2003 RWC Final, Lote Tuqiri and Jason Robinson, both league converts, both outstanding in the match. Tuqiri using his size to outjump Robinson and score and Robinson using his pace to outstrip the Aussie defence.
    Further examples from league - arguably the two best Super League half backs, Eastmond and Thompkins, both small. Jonathon Thurston, probably the best half in the world, small also. Brett Hodgson, about 11stone wet through won the 2009 Man of Steel. While giants such as Inglis can be dominant they cant beat opponents by size and speed alone.

    John - as for players who would make it in either code, I think O'Driscoll would have been as outstanding in league as he has been in union with his footwork, power, defense and offloading game being ideally suited. I agree with Lamont and Williams. Banahan's height would make him a threat aerially were he to play on the wing but the man has the turning circle of an oil tanker. His immobility would be too easily exposed. He lacks a hardness to play in the forwards but his size would make it hard to cover the ball when tackling so he could be a threat offloading, maybe from centre? Jamie Roberts could make the switch easily. I would also love to see how hard Jerry Collins could hit if he didn't have to wrap his arms around. As for in the other direction, Ryan Hall and Kyle Eastmond, although I hope neither would go as they would be a massive loss. James Graham is an outstanding player but may struggle to find a position in union. His ball carrying and defense would be amazing from 8 or 6 but he may struggle when the ball was on the floor.

    On a final note, I saw a study a year or so ago comparing the time the ball was in play in union and league matches. Union averaged around 20/80 whilst league around 50/80. The study also allowed for 'time off' so the figures apply to actual playing time noninclusive of stoppages. Does anybody know where this study is as I can no longer find it?


  • Comment number 58.

    there's a different between league and rugby because when the ball is in play in league only one or maybe two player is involved. In rugby there are usually more than five players all contesting, rucking, mauling and smashin each other up to get the ball.
    have you ever seeing a league match live? tv doesn't show everything that goes on in league. nearly all the players are standing and walking around when they are not involve in play. league is now touch footy espeacially with forwards now only playing ten minutes before been replace by other forwards and so on. Hardly any forwards now spend more than 50 minutes on the field.

  • Comment number 59.

    Reply to Gort2 :

    It was a game last season in the Championship between Nottingham and Exeter.
    This is an extract from their web-site:

    Nottingham Rugby will be guaranteed an extra 1,000 "supporters" on Sunday when they take on title-chasing Exeter Chiefs at Meadow Lane.

    The Family Stand at the scoreboard end will be packed with inflatable fans provided by Airheads, a local company that specialises in enhancing crowd scenes for films, TV, commercials and promotional work.

    The Green and Whites' crowds have been on the up and up this season following yet another successful campaign that has taken them to within - one step of a Twickenham Final and in the brink of a top four finish in National Division One.

    Airheads' director Lee Harris is delighted to help Nottingham Rugby in their push to keep building the crowds at Meadow Lane. He explained; "As a local firm we are really keen to support Nottingham Rugby in their quest to raise the profile of the club.

    "It also provides us with an opportunity to showcase how Airheads can add value and enhance crowd scenes in TV and Film Productions.

    "We are hoping an extra 1,000 'people' in the crowd against Exeter, will encourage supporters of both rugby and sport to come and get behind their successful local team.

    "Hopefully it will add to the atmosphere, and inspire people to come back again".

    Looks as if those Nottingham guys may have trouble paying their council flat rent...

  • Comment number 60.

    The 15-20 people who claim rugby union is boring and consists of endless ping-pong kicking clarly haven't watched a game since Christmas.

    The Premiership finals were superb and the rugby NZ are currently playing in the Tri-nations is breathtaking.

  • Comment number 61.

    obviously being born in Wales, i'm union through and through, attending and playing matches all my life. whilst there is no competition from any sport to union for me i thouroughly enjoy watching league, as do a lot of my team mates.

    i've attended many of the league events that have taken place at the millenium stadium and had a great time doing so, though i do feel the crowds were a lot different from the union ones, which is not a slight.

    when watching league my only gripe (a minor one at that) is the 5 tackle rule. though we use it a lot in training! sometimes i feel players are a lot happier to just take a tackle knowing that they will retain the ball than take a risk at creating something. a take and hit in union is used to suck players into the contact area in order to create space out wide in the next phase of play, however in league defences are reset before the next play due to players lying on top of the ball carrier.

    like every rugby fan of either code, i like big hits and the physicallity of the games, but being Welsh nothing pleases me more than someone willing to take a risk and pull out something beautiful. though i have been spoilt watching shane williams for the last decade!

    union or league, which is better? who cares if you enjoy it.

  • Comment number 62.

    MY father always used to tell of the risk of being banned for even speaking to a league rep. It all needed to be done in secret - a meeting on a train or you lost the ability to play union even if you decided not to go north (well it is north from Wales!)

    He also told of his friends who had gone north saying you prayed your winger got you 'cos if not the forwards covering were likely to get you and dish out the "afters". To be avoided at all costs.

    However whilst the we continue to have a lot to learn about lines of running, aggressive driving with the ball and defence, we are improving and have caught up in terms of fitness which was always a major difference in the past - with the advent of professionalism. However there is beauty and skill in the line out, scrum and rolling maul - skills which we should not dismiss just because one or two nations don't have a front row at present. The sight of Munster controlling the last five minutes of a game from scrum and ruck to hold out for a win or to get the drop-goal / penalty to win it should not be dismissed. It is a thing of beauty and forward control can be as impressive as back play. Watch Scotland and Wales release from the tackle, rapid ball recovery and continued forward support. Watch the All Black forwards sort out the SA's and Wallabies to allow their backs the freedom to play. It just needs a little more understanding of the "dark arts" to appreciate them all. However these "tight skills" in particular are appallingly taught at school and a young level. Scrummaging is thought to be a recipe for a neck injury - not surprising with a clash of the 8 largest players all at once - did Brendan Cannon suggest >4000lb/in2 on contact. But I can remember scrummaging for what seemed hours on a machine. Watch the Telfer Lions. If you don't practice it also makes these situations becomes more dangerous but the 1.5m rule at school means there is little point practicing driving a scrum and the secondary shove any more. It becomes almost as much of a shambles as the league scrum. Another excuse to get rid of it but it gives us bigger, slower people a place in the game which nobody else can come and do.

  • Comment number 63.

    Having taught at a school where one boy was killed and another paralysed for life playing rugby,I always thought the aim of sport was to keep fit,not end up in a wheelchair.

  • Comment number 64.

    I enjoy both games although to be honest my heart will always be with Union. In fact when I introduced rugby to some American friends, I started out teaching them the basics by just playing some League as its pretty damn simple to be honest. After that we introduced the ruck, mauls and then training just wrote itself. They like League & Union in equal measure now which is a result for both codes I think! :)


    No you're not gettin git, Nottingham are in the RFU Championship. They may be professional but they're definitely not top flight and you certainly can't compare them to Manchester United or a Super League club! Why not compare Manchester United to Harlow Town FC while you're at it?

    The reality is that teams such as Northampton Saints are averaging crowds of 12,500 a game for a stadium that holds...wait for it....12,500 a game. Leicester Tigers get an average of 22,000 a game for a stadium that holds 24,000 and Saracens got over 50,000 people into Wembley a game for four club games.

    I'll play your game though, at the AFL grand final in Melborne they got 100,000 people in there while Bristol Sonics League team could barely get a couple of hundred!

  • Comment number 65.

    Me again:

    I have to say but surely they can bring back scrums though? Maybe not full on Union style scrums but some push and shove is always fun to watch along with the oligatory cry of "HEAAAAAAAAAVE!" from the crowd and whoever wins the scrum gets a set of 6 and a run at glory.

  • Comment number 66.

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

  • Comment number 67.

    Both sports are magnificent days out with rivals and families joining together, one criticism of union however would be the price, £70 for Scotland top seats at their home 6 nations games

    I dont even want to know what Englands prices would be

    That compared to the £30 top range seat that I had for the Super League magic weekend at Murrayfield 2 years ago and you can see where the value is, and this was for 3 games on a Sunday.

    That said its supply and demand and all 6 nations are near sell outs where as the majority of SL games are not

    Both codes realise that apart from the premiership in England they are a minority sport and have started initiatives to try and spread the game like the Friday evening 6 nations matches and the SL Magic weekends at both Cardiff and Edinburgh, and that is to be appluaded

    On field its hard to judge cause you are not comparing apples to apples

    Like John I watched Wigan demolish Englands and probably Europes top Union side Bath in a one off game of union

    Then in the return when they switched codes put up a fairly good showing and excelled in the loose and counter attack

    They only struggled in scrums mauls rucks and the line out

    They were fitter better ahletes and had all round better skills and game awareness

    However since Union has went proffessional the gap has narrowed to such an extent that most players could hold their own at either codes

    The big difference however is that in the tackle League players need to do nothing except not knock on, and indeed many times they can engineer a penalty for holding or high tackle or slowing down the play the ball

    where as in union players are as likely to be penalised as they are to be awarded a penalty
    due to interpretation of refs

    This is why teams kick far more and from far deeper cause its always safer playing in the opponents half defending or attacking

    A final point is that Union seem to be doing a far better job in spreading the game around the globe

    Look at some of the teams who play sevens and play very well


    I think you have to look at all these factors if you want to decide

    But for me my favourite ever players from both codes are

    Jones 87 McCaw 07 Calder 90 Jeffreys 90 Williams 05 (thats Martin not Ali)

    So its Union and all the scavengers and dark art (cheats) back rows for me

  • Comment number 68.

    The_Voice says

    Sure Saracens got 50,000 at Wembley.
    It's a disgrace that the hallowed turf should be churned up by seventeen stone beer-barrels.
    Twickenham would never allow football to be played there.
    Those 50,000 consisted mainly of refugee South Africans who fled their homeland when their garden-boys got the vote.

    Yes One_Eye leaguie, the Wembley Footbal stadium got 50,000 fans to watched a game between two English rugby clubs. And no there aren't seventeen beer-barrels rugby players on the field that day. You probably won't have a problem with over one hundred millions of Americans watching over 30 beer-barrels gridion players playing the sport they love.
    Playing the South African race game now because Saracens got almost the same amount of people for one game at Wembley than the whole Magic weekend got.
    You should come and visit Australia and NZ where there's also heaps of league players on wheelchairs and paralysed for life.

  • Comment number 69.

    Gort2's comment that "Even playing RL on an RU pitch could 'professionalise' the pitch",reminds me of my teaching days at a Whites only school in Rhodesia back in the 1970's.

    On the occasions that the school played a Catholic school at Rugby where the Catholic school had selected a black boy in the XV (Church schools were allowed to have a small percentage of blacks),the following procedure was adopted:

    Each boy selected in the XV had to obtain written permission from his parents to allow him to play.
    Several parents refused (I'm not having my boy rugby tackled by a ni88er,
    they would say).

    The match had to be played at a sports club several miles away, and not on the school playing field. (no black boy must desecrate the holy turf of the school playing fields).

    A large number of coaches had to be hired at great expense to take the thousand odd boys to the sports club.
    (Every boy in the school had to turn up to cheer the first XV
    or else be thrashed by the headmaster the next day before assembly).

    Now you know why 44 million black south africans follow football,
    and rugby in Zimbabwe is virtually extinct.

  • Comment number 70.

    Thanks for that hatefull post towards rugby even if it didn't happen The_Voice.
    Im sure if you read the comments again I wasn't the one who said "Even playing RL on an RU pitch could 'professionalise'. We had many league games played on rugby fields in NZ and Australia for over 100 years with no problems.
    We all know what the old Rodesia was liked a couple of years ago but here in NZ white parents and their kids are refusing to play league along side Pacific Islanders and Maori. You have a very short memory but millions and millions of blacks in South Africa support and play rugby. There are more black rugby players in South Africa than there are rugby league players in the whole of Australia.
    Zimbabwe has more rugby players at all level than the current rugby league world champions NZ and France put together. New Zealand only has 15,000 rugby league players left in the country.

  • Comment number 71.

    The most important difference between Rugby Union and Rugby League is the devastating effect the serious neck,shoulder and back injuries sustained by Union players in the scrum,ruck and maul has on their sex life.

    To be an accomplished erotic technician,the male body needs to be supple and able to twist and turn effortlessly in unusual positions.
    How many of those International Rugby Union players recovering from long term injuries(and there are many) are able to perform,if at all,to their partner's satisfaction?.

    "Not this year,Josephine,My back's killing me".

    The lot of the wife of a professional Rugby Union player is not a happy one.

    Forced to scavenge in Oxfam shops due to the paltry salary of her husband,she lives in constant fear that an injury to her husband will not only end his career but even worse, ruin his performance in the Boudoir.

    She gazes longingly at the lifestyle of footballers' WAGs and asks "Why couldn't my husband have had Wayne Rooney's feet?"

  • Comment number 72.


    I am a league fan who comes in peace.

    Please don't ever ask again which code is better! Although this generates a lot of hits, the discussion inevitably degenerates into childishness.

    Relations have improved between our 2 great codes over the last decade. Lets keep that going- respect the differences in play and admire the stars who play these really tough games.

    The only thing i wish as a league fan is more coverage in the media. Half of what union gets would see our coverage go up a hundred fold!

  • Comment number 73.

    Toffesaint writes:

    "The only thing i wish as a league fan is more coverage in the media. Half of what union gets would see our coverage go up a hundred fold!"

    I was once staying in a hotel in Birmingham.
    One night England were playing Italy in a vital European Qualifier at football.

    The lounge was packed without a seat to be had as we watched the game on TV with everyone going wild when England scored.

    The next night a Rugby League match was being televised on BBC2.
    As soon as the match started,everyone walked out of the lounge save one guy who was a St.Helens supporter and St.Helens were playing.

    There's no point in giving more coverage in the media to a sport hardly anyone has any interest in.

  • Comment number 74.

    I don't know where you got that idea rugby players have no sex life because of rugby rucks, mauls and scrum. Looking around I see most rugby players dating models, celebreties and famous girls from their own country.
    Thats alot better than most rugby league players who seem to be more interested in forcing woman to have sex with them or get the whole team to participate or watched them have sex. If thats not enough usually the odd classing or assault will come next. How is the SIX Huddersfield players Supperleague rugby league rape case going The_Voice?

    In regards to the media. You can't expect a minor sport like league to be getting ahead of itself now. Im sure ice hockey, softball, underwater hockey and lawn bowling are crying out loud for more coverage for thei sports.


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