The idea has been around for longer than most people think. Hell, its been done before, just not in our lifetime.
The Australian Rugby League team, the mighty Kangaroos, taking on the Australian rugby union team, you know, the ones that wear a mustard coloured jersey and don’t win much of anything.
The concept of a cross code match is an old one, but over the last decade it has been revived by two factors.
The first factor is what you get at face value, revenge. For Rugby League, players wanted to take on the over hyped Wallabies side and show that it was filled with reserve grade quality players. They wanted to take on an international Rugby Union team and thrash them unmercifully.
The second factor, and the real driving force, has always been money.
You’ll always find three parties pushing this idea. Some unknown promoter who talks up big figures, ANZ Stadium in Sydney who wants to host a big event, and at the end of the day, a New Limited company who owns 50% of the NRL, makes millions from Rugby League ever year and also owns the broadcasting rights for Rugby Union.
News Limited dream would be one unified “rugby” code that would be aesthetically pleasing, as Rugby League is, have the world wide infrastructure of rugby union and yet appeal to the wider general audience as Rugby League does.
So, how would it work?
The latest set of rules put forward, I think make for a bit of a frustrating mess. Then again, any game that has rugby union elements to it would be a frustrating mess!
Basically, they would be:
*12 players a side.
*Rugby League play the balls when in your own 50 meter zone coming off your try line.
*Rugby Union rucks when you cross half way and enter the attacking zone.
*Five man scrums.
*Four points for a try, two for a goal and two for a drop goal.
Two things jump out of me straight away.
Firstly, I don’t think this game would quench the thirst for a cross code match simply because fans would want to see a spectacle. They would want to see great football, and they would, until the ball crossed the halfway line and then you’d see the game bogged down.
The second thing is…..12 players a side? Have you see a rugby union game? Have you seen what they call defense? Can you imagine what the likes of Greg Inglis and Billy Slater would do against 12 players, let alone 12 rugby union players?
Of course rugby union types would say they would be far superior when they crossed the half way line. What they are forgetting is, they would be coming up against a Rugby League defensive line.
As for the scrums, rugby union prides itself on its hardly contested scrums. They train for hours pushing in scrums, collapsing them, you know, all the really exciting stuff that draws in the fans!
Yes they would have an advantage there, but the suggestion that they would be so good it would be dangerous for Rugby League players is beyond a joke.
I’ve never seen Brad Thorn having any problems in a rugby union scrum.
For the Australia Rugby Union, then wouldn’t have too many choices. Their player pool is tiny, and to be honest, not many of them are very good at rugby union, let alone Rugby League.
I think both teams would have to commit to playing about their best side possible rather than hand picking a team made for this game.
For the ARU, they would be looking at former Rugby League players, none of whom really made the grade.
For the ARL, you would think they would pick the best Rugby League team they could, but you would wonder if they would look for forwards that maybe had a bit of rugby union experience, even if it was just a few games in high school.
The talent gap would be massive.
Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Jarryd Hayne, Israel Folau, Darren Lockyer, Jonathan Thruston…on athleticism and skill alone, the Kangaroo’s would be so far beyond anything the rugby union players had come up against.
For the record by the way, my Rugby League team for the hybrid game would be:
1. Billy Slater
2. Jarryd Hayne
3. Greg Inglis
4. Michael Jennings
5. Jamal Idris
6. Darrel Lockyer
7. Jonathan Thurston
8. Nate Myles
9. Cameron Smith
10. Trent Waterhouse
11. Sam Thaiday
12. Anthony Watmough
The Lead In
To make this game worth anything, you’d have to have a lead in. Give the players time to get used to the rules, let them train for the disciplines of the opposite code.
I’ve always said, you give the Australian Kangaroo’s six months to get training in rugby union rules, they would go out and thrash any rugby union international side you want, playing a game of rugby union!
The rugby union side would not have much to learn really. In Australia, every rugby union player has played Rugby League at some point in their life, it is the dominant code by a long way. They would need to get up to speed with faster play the balls and slowing down the opposition with “wrestling” tactics”.
The Tactics From Rugby League
Looking at it from a Rugby League perspective, there are two things you’d be looking to do.
Firstly, you would want to use all six of your play the ball tackles in your own half of the field. Run the opposition around as much as possible, get them tired.
I think once you go into the attacking side of the field and had to use rugby union rucks, you would be looking to go from sideline to sideline early on with passing. With 12 players on the field, it would take one decent back line play and one missed tackle from the opposition, and it would be try time.
As soon as a player got isolated, you’d want him to put in an attacking kick. At best, a bomb, test the opposition out under the high ball. At worst, get them nailed down in their own territory, stifle them in defense for 6 tackles and get back to work trying to crack them.
The Tactics From Rugby Union
For the rugby union team it would have to be a case of trying to cash on their strengths. Once they get into the attacking side of the field, they would look to try and grind the ball through phase after phase of possession.
I’d suggest that their instinct would be to kick early from their own half of the field. They wouldn’t be cracking the Kangaroo’s defense with 6 play the balls. They would need to hope that they got it down field, could maybe force a mistake, and then try and grind the Kangaroo’s down with endless possession or maybe even field goal kicking.
Scrums would be an advantage for them, not as much as people are making out though. In any event, of you saw the union side winning every scrum, they are still faced with a Rugby League defensive line.
They would need to hold onto the ball for as long as possible in the attacking side of the field, much longer than they would in a game of rugby union. The problem is, that would effect the speed of their play.
They would need to play fast, they would need to get a roll on, and that leads to mistakes. Then again, if they slowed it down and held possession, they would just be running at a well set, rested defensive line, and they could do that all day and not score.
I’d suggest field goal kicking would be what they looked at. Try and get field position and slot the ball over again and again.
You just had a sinking feeling reading that heading didn’t you?
Obviously the refereeing would be an important part of the game. A bad Rugby League ref can stuff a game. A bad rugby union ref can catastrophically destroy any hint of a possible sporting contest.
I think you’d need two referee’s for either side of the field. A Rugby League one for the defensive side of the field, and a rugby union one for the attacking side.
The problem I see is that a Rugby League referee would go into this contest basically letting the two sides sort it out. There is a lot of chips on shoulders in rugby union though, I think the rugby union referee would be super pedantic when he was in control of the contest.
I think what you would want is maybe someone like Bill Harrigan for the League side of the field. He has experience, he would still be up to speed. He’d let the game flow and he would have time to get up to speed with any of the different rules you need him to know.
For the union side, I’m guessing your best bet is a lower grade referee that knows this game would be an opportunity for him to step up to a higher level. No chip on his shoulder of “We do it my way or I shut this game down” and maybe even a guy that has experience controlling a League game at some level as well.
If you said that the Australian Kangaroo’s had to play France in Rugby League, but they could not be tackled in the attacking side of the field at all, not even once, you wouldn’t rule out that they would win the game.
Repeated phases is rugby union don’t go on forever, they do have a lifespan. On top of that, we’re looking at this part of rugby union with the idea that the Kangaroo’s would not compete in the rugby union rucks at all. Tactically, they might not contest for the ball in them anyway, but if the Rugby League side could be any sort of opposition in this area of the game, even in the slightest way, this would turn this contest even further towards their favour.
With these rules in place, and the 12 players a side, I think this would see the Kangaroo’s slaughter a hopelessly out matched opponent. By the 70th minutes, I think they’d be walking in tries with ease.
Why Both Sides Wouldn’t Want It To Happen
The rugby union case for not wanting this is simple. If they got thrashed, that’s it. Rugby union in Australia would be stuffed even more than it is now. It would be a PR disaster.
For the Rugby League side, I think they wouldn’t see a need to give a competitor any extra spotlight. Rugby union in Australia is a minority sport watched by dwindling crowds and tv viewers. This game would be a huge ratings hit, why would Rugby League want to help out rugby union in that sense?
Another thing I wonder about is, would Rugby League really want to give its elite players a feel for the other code. It would be a lot easier for a player to take a million dollars to switch to union after thrashing a union side in a fun contest.
The other thing to consider is, which club would release their player to a match like this. Who wants their star player learning a game that doesn’t exist for months, and possibly getting injured, in a game that means nothing to their interests?
Only Way It Happens
The only way I see any contest even remotely like this happening is if its a non sanctioned game and you basically have two all star teams made up of players that are not playing under the ARL, NRL or ARU banner.
A Rugby League team vs a rugby union team in a flat out exhibition game. I can only see it played early in the year giving both sides time to get used to the rules.
What we are much more likely to see is it happening at a much lower level. Even then, I think the concept would be snuffed out by the Rugby League teams dominance.
Keep in mind that earlier this year the Queensland Rugby Union invited a Rugby League high school team to compete in their Rugby Union Sevens competition.
The League side purposely refused to brush up on rugby union rules or tactics. They went in with the mind set that they would be a Rugby League team, Rugby League players, and they would take what ever comes their way.
They walked through the regional competition, won the state title with ease and actually claimed the national titled quite easily, and that was playing rugby union rules!
If you got those type of results in a hybrid match, at schoolboy level, then at say park football level where I think the difference in standard would be even greater…..the ARU would be looking to kill these type of contests dead.
Rugby League would love to tap into rugby unions international competition ins some way, even through exhibition games in a hybrid format against international sides. The ARU meanwhile would kill to crack the mainstream, having spent millions on Rugby League players with that aim.
In an ideal world you would have the one code of “Rugby”, and I think one day we will see such a thing happen. However, unlike some forced experiment in a hybrid match that sets off the move towards one code, I think what we will see is imply a natural process of evolution.
100 years ago, Rugby League WAS rugby union. The forces of professionalism saw Rugby League have to change its rules to keep ahead of professional tactics and looking to gain a wider audience with a better spectacle.
Rugby union has been “professional” for just 15 years now. That would be where Rugby League was back in 1910! We are already seeing rugby union battling with itself, bogged down by its own rules.
In fact the only reason rugby union hasn’t seen wholesale changes already is because of political rubbish. As the ARU, NZRU and Pacific Nations cry out of law changes to make the game more appealing they face opposition from Europe who think such changes are only put forward because they suit the playing styles of those nations.
The once unified ideal that rugby union types got behind has been cracking for years. Even its most ardent supporters now cast a critical eye over the terrible games that keep being produced by the code time and time again.
These people now openly talk about enjoying Rugby League games. That would not have happened even 10 years ago!
There will be one code of “Rugby” one day. Rugby League is a great sport going in the right direction. We just have to watch for rugby union to catch up.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com