The City of London conjures up thoughts of high rise buildings and high finance, men in suits and ladies in high heels, it’s not too often that the words Rugby League and the City go hand in hand.
League 1 team London Skolars however, brought that association to the smoke in 2008, taking on London Broncos in an annual challenge match.
2013 saw the Broncos struggling to see a future and Wigan Warriors stepped into the breach to play in the Capital Challenge game and they made the trip down the M6 for a second year.
Wigan Chairman Ian Lenagan is a big supporter of rugby league in the south, he was Chairman at Harlequins RL for a spell and is keen to help the game expand. He firmly believes that the game needs London in particular to secure growth.
The afternoon started with a very agreeable lunch, the City does like a good lunch and for Skolars it’s a great way to get new people looking at the 13 man code. many of them will already be stalwart rugby union fans.
A frustration for those seeking to expand the game outside of the heartlands is that people are keen to play the game, not so keen to watch it!
Wigan brought 3 of their first team players with them, Matty Smith, Josh Charnley and southern lad Dan Sarginson; alongside them were Kris Radlinski, Paul Deacon and Head Coach Shaun Wane.
Rugby league is a game that fosters support from former players and the great Andy Gregory came down. Former captain Andy Farrell, now an England Rugby Union Coach was the man facing questions as lunch was eaten.
The people I sat with didn’t seem to know too much about league, but were very happy to be there and looking forward to the game. Andy Farrell was quizzed by Howard Kramer of London Skolars, for me it would have been better if there had been time to take questions from the floor, although I have a feeling many would have been about the other code.
The venue for the game was the Honourable Artillery Company Ground in Moorgate, the ground has successfully hosted a Saracens pre-season warm up for a few years, that tends to be a bigger affair so a stand is put into place for those watching. That wasn’t the case today, it was a case of finding a spot at the side of the pitch. Not a bad way to watch rugby league, you really get an idea of the impact as tackles are made.
The game last year was a one sided affair, Wigan Warriors went home 48-0 winners, probably not a useful game for either club. It was clear when the teams took to the field that we were looking at men against boys. But, these were Wigan boys, lads who have rugby league running through their veins.
Both sets of players were keen to show their best, and this year London Skolars competed, Wigan scored early on and it felt that another landslide might be coming. But Skolars showed good determination against their young rivals, what was very noticeable was the speed with which Wigan moved the ball.
For London Skolars they can take many positives from the game, they tackled with some ferocity and scored two tries to ensure there wasn’t another zero, eventually going down 28-10.
A very enjoyable afternoon all round and hopefully a few new fans won over for the game, Hector McNeil who was instrumental in setting up the London club is keen to grow the game and keen for his club to field home grown (southern players) – he’s a very determined man, I’d say, watch this space.