A NEW version of rugby which aims to bring “the best out of League and the best out of Union” in a series of annual spectacles featuring leading players from both codes has been unveiled.
The Hybrid Code claims to eliminate the negative aspects of both rugby union and rugby league, producing a free-flowing, more entertaining match with the accent on attacking play.
The brainchild of Bob Dwyer, the former Australia rugby union coach who won the Rugby World Cup in 1991, ex-Rugby league player Phil Franks and retired Sydney MP Paul Gibson, Hybrid Code has been in development in Australia for three years.
So far, only school teams have taken part in trial matches, but the trio hope their version of the game will soon take off in both the southern and northern hemispheres.
The 13-a-side game pits a rugby league side against a rugby union side, with ‘Play the Ball’ rules in operation when in the defensive half and ‘Ruck and Maul’ rules in operation in the attacking half. In both halves of the pitch, teams are against a one minute ‘shot clock’ to encourage fast phases and attacking play.
Preliminary negotiations are under way with clubs, stadium managers and television companies in the UK with a view to staging the first fixture – perhaps between a Premiership rugby union team and a Super League team – sometime next year.
Gibson said: “This is taking the best out of rugby league and the best out of rugby union. Fans have always debated the qualities of rugby league and rugby union and here is a chance to find out which is best.
“It is a faster game than both codes and it will fill every stadium. The possibilities for games are endless, the mix and match is endless. “
The Hybrid Code does not intend to unify the two existing versions, but the organisers believe it can be a “shot in the arm” for both, offering an additional revenue stream through a handful of annual fixtures in either Australia or the UK.
Dwyer, who also coached Bristol, said: “A concise description is that it’s all about possession and playing the ball at the tackle. It removes the kicking from defensive areas that is a big part of rugby union. In attack, you play the ruck and maul, recycle the pass and have greater urgency. The one minute shot clock stops the ball being played ad infinitum.
“We have played schoolboy games and the school players took about 15 seconds to work out the game and the spectators worked it out in about 30 seconds.
“It’s definitely a shot in the arm for both codes. Two sports that are very strong and very close to one another and this is a chance to play on a level playing field.”
The former coach, who led Australia to a 12-6 win over England at Twickenham in the 1991 final, said that although there would be financial incentives on offer to attract big names, the chance to prove themselves against the other code would be the greatest lure.
“It’s not only the money – the money is the sealer I’m sure – but it is them saying ‘I want to see how good they are,’” he added
“In Australia, the league players always thought they were better because the union players didn’t get paid. The same thing probably existed here – English rugby league would think they were better players than rugby union and vice versa, and I think that’s terrific.
“The supporters think ‘our game is best otherwise I’d watch the other game.’ Everyone we speak to starts off ‘Hmm, interesting.’ In the space of the one conversation, they say ‘this has got real legs, this game.’”
Franks, now a businessman based in Sydney, believes the appeal to supporters of both codes would ensure even the largest stadia would be sold-out for a Hybrid match.
“England Rugby League versus England Rugby Union would be a once-in-a-century event,” he said.
“The codes are both football codes, they are not enemies. They’re not out there shooting each other.
“Every coach and player is looking for greatness. This will bring out that greatness. You will see the skills come out in the players.
“This game will fill stadiums in Europe or Australia. I am willing to punt that a game between rugby league and rugby union will fill any stadium.”
He added that room could be found in the calendar for at least one fixture a year in the same way that the Australian State of Origin rugby league series between Queensland and New South Wales and cricket’s Twenty20 Cup were accommodated into packed fixture lists.
Dwyer said that although negotiations were at an early stage, a match could be staged in this country as early as next year: “There’s no pressure because it’s interesting and it’s intriguing and a lot of people want to see it played.”