IT comes to something when the golf correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, of all people, is moved to pen an opinion piece defending rugby league from a slur by someone over in the other code.
For those who missed it, the rumpus all began last Wednesday ahead of the start of England’s three-match tour of Australia, with their antipodean coach Eddie Jones opting to have a pop at not only his predecessor, Stuart Lancaster, but Sam Burgess and the 13-man game as well.
“Burgess was a non-event in England’s confused strategy at the World Cup but he would have been an excellent Test player if he’d had the will to stick at it,” thundered Jones.
But what followed what a remark which really stuck in the craw: “Rugby league is not a skillful game, it’s a game where you’ve got to hurt people.”
No doubt Jones’ remarks in an interview with the Brisbane Courier-Mail, no less, were designed to rattle a few cages in one of Australia’s rugby league hotbeds, although it does seem English rugby union still has not quite got over the whole Burgess affair.
It is bad enough that some who were involved with the team’s dismal 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign – *cough* Mike Ford *cough* – still act like jilted lovers over Burgess’ decision to return to league, never mind those who were nothing to do with it as well.
But to top that off with a needless attack on rugby league as a whole was completely unwarranted, with Jones dismissing it as a thuggish spectacle where the participants simply go out to injure each other.
Among all the indignation from the league media and fans of the game on Twitter, there was a welcome defence from the Telegraph’s James Corrigan, who eloquently dismantled Jones’ inaccurate insinuations.
Along with informing us that Jones had originally wanted to play league but was denied the opportunity by his school, Corrigan also made the point that the England coach was well-known poaching players from the 13-man code when in charge of Australia’s union team.
“A decade on and Jones is still ‘taking’ from this unskilful game,” wrote Corrigan. “Not only with the tactics which every union coach has copied, but with personnel such as Ben Te’o.
“‘What has league ever done for us?’ he might cry in his own comedy, the Life of Eddie. ‘Well, apart from Jason Robinson, Israel Folau, Brad Thorn…’”
Of course, there are those who will say rugby league fans should not get so uppity about such flippant remarks, particularly from someone in union, and they may well have a point.
But the problem is we are supposed to have moved on – particularly since union legalised professionalism 21 years ago – from a time when it was considered acceptable for rugby league to be demonised and its followers looked upon as deviants by the wider world.
Yet these attacks continue and there are plenty in the media who continue to see league as fair game, from Sunday Express chief sports correspondent Jim Holden’s infamous “rats in the sewer” article in 2001 to the hatchet jobs by columnist Michael Calvin on the 2013 Challenge Cup final and Rugby League World Cup in the now-defunct Independent on Sunday.
It was therefore refreshing to see Corrigan, a fan of both codes of rugby, leaping to the defence of league in a publication which has featured some excellent writing on the sport recently by Jonathan Liew.
As for those in union who continue to deride league as being unskilful and little more than brute physicality, the last word should go to late BBC Radio Four presenter and league enthusiast Brian Redhead from the television documentary this blog is named after.
“If you want to see stupid rugby, go and watch rugby union, and there you will see people play a game where half the things they do they do without thinking,” said Redhead.
“But in this game, although it looks as if it’s all muscle and toughness, nothing ever happens that somebody hasn’t thought about very carefully.
“And when rugby union people come and play this game, they get outwitted and they don’t realise that they are being out-thought.”