Exiles match shouldn’t be dismissed

The England versus Exiles fixture seems to have polarised rugby league fans to a remarkable extent. To some it’s a marvellous fixture, producing a truly competitive and exciting game with the potential to become a three-match series or a competition involving the likes of France and Wales. To others, however, it was a second-rate match with no passion or atmosphere that should be immediately scrapped.

In that sense the International Origin is a bit like the Magic Weekend: depending on who you talk to it was either a truly wonderful and heart-warming experience or an ugly spectacle that epitomises the sheer drudgery of being a rugby league supporter.

Much like the Magic Weekend, I can’t really offer an opinion on it, because I didn’t actually watch the game. I don’t have Sky Sports – in fact I don’t have TV at all in a student house – and the highlights on the England RL website aren’t a sufficient basis to draw conclusions on the overall standard of play. It’s a shame really, because to some it was as poor a standard of rugby as you’re ever likely to see – as evidenced by the low scoreline – while to others it was a tough, defence-orientated war of attrition – as evidenced by the low scoreline.

Despite this there are a few general points that can be made. For instance, it’s so depressing to see an event like this staged once, only for fans to immediately decide they want to see it scrapped. It’s not even an unusual response: off the top of my head this year there have already been calls to scrap the Challenge Cup, the World Club Challenge and the Magic Weekend. Deciding not to carry on with something isn’t always the wrong thing to do, but it should be a last resort; for rugby league fans it seems that the last resort is also the first response.

Some of the comparisons have been rather unfair. Fans have been comparing the England versus Exiles match with State of Origin in Australia, which is just ridiculous. That’s partly because the game has been marketed to be the English equivalent, with the cringeworthy name of “International Origin”, but even so it’s hardly a realistic comparison, even without taking into account that this was the very first one. 

I didn’t support the Exiles game when it was first mooted because I didn’t like the idea, but given how it exceeded so many expectations it seems uncharitable in the extreme to argue for it to be scrapped. It was competitive game, no matter what you think about the standard of play, with the Exiles winning just 14-12. That itself is an improvement on the one-sided mid-season internationals that have been played since 2006, such as last year’s 60-6 win over France. It drew 14,174 fans, which compares favourably to the crowd 7,991 that turned up last year.

That given, there doesn’t seem to be any viable reason not to stage this fixture again next season. For all its flaws it could become a meaningful mid-season fixture for England. In fact, it seems a shame to put together an Exiles side to play just one game – there’s no reason why they couldn’t play one or two more games, perhaps turning this one-off fixture into a series. Maybe it won’t work as a long-term solution, but that’s what we’ll find out over the next few seasons rather than declaring the idea a failure from the very outset.

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