Rugby Union Commentator
Clash of the Codes: Miles Harrison's memories of when Wigan and Bath faced off
Last Updated: 07/05/20 1:05pm
He is a lifelong rugby union fan and has become known as Sky Sports' voice of the 15-man code, but commentator Miles Harrison has a long-held soft spot for their league-playing counterparts too.
From following his favourite player, Wales and British & Irish Lions star John Bevan, when he 'went north' to Warrington to covering rugby league when he began his broadcasting career in Leeds, the code has always piqued his interest.
So when union discarded its strict amateur rules in 1995, thereby opening the doors for Bath to meet Wigan in the 'Clash of the Codes' the following year, Harrison was delighted to see the animosity between the sports start to soften.
"From a personal point of view, I never really got it," Harrison said. "I was always a union fan growing up, but I took great interest in the sport of rugby league as a child and then got the chance to present some programmes.
"When I started working as a union commentator, I really just didn't get it. I thought 'why does there need to be this confrontational element?' and I've never got it since.
"I've always been very open to watching both sports and seeing the common links between them, of which there are many - although I think these two games pointed there were quite a few differences too."
Ultimately, Wigan and Bath proved too strong for the other in their respective codes. The Cherry and Whites won the league leg at Manchester's Maine Road 82-6, with Bath triumphing 44-19 two weeks later at Twickenham.
Harrison, who commentated on the latter with regular partner Jamie Salmon and Sky Sports rugby league expert Mike Stephenson, could not help but be impressed by some of the skills on display from a Wigan side which had swept all before them in league.
"You had to fall in love with that Wigan side because they were just an amazing set of players," Harrison said.
"Union or league, it doesn't matter - these were just rugby greats and to see those up close and personal from a TV commentary box was always going to be a really exciting moment and time.
"If you're going to be absolutely honest, deep down you thought it was going to be pretty one-sided and the respective games will go the way of the league or the union side in a pretty comprehensive way.
"I think what Wigan probably showed over the course of the two legs the greatness of their team just as rugby players. There were moments at Twickenham where they produced some scintillating stuff and you thought 'yeah, these are just really good rugby players'."
Harrison and Salmon were on commentary duty for Wigan's historic appearance at the Middlesex Sevens prior to the union leg of the 'Clash of the Codes' as well, with the squad comprising a number of cross-code stars going on to win the tournament.
"There are one or two Middlesex Sevens moments you remember growing up as a union fan, but there was nothing which compared to when Wigan arrived," Harrison said.
"Sevens was very much made for them; It takes out the issue of the line-out and the scrum is just a way of restarting, a bit like rugby league in that respect.
"You always felt they could do well, they did turn it on and it was a great day. I have to say, I thought the union supporters that day really took to Wigan.
"It was a moment which showed the two sports could definitely live side-by-side and learn a lot from each other."
Looking back now, nearly a quarter of a century later, Harrison is in no doubt the matches served to break down a lot of the barriers between the codes, recalling how the fans of both clubs appreciated the efforts of their cross-code rivals in trying to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings.
But perhaps the biggest legacy of those matches is the impact the likes of Wigan stars Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards have had on the coaching side in union, with the former now Ireland head coach and the latter now plying his trade as one of the finest defensive minds in the sport in France.
Not only that, but there was a strong league influence on the playing side as the Lions defeated South Africa on their 1997 tour when the likes of Scott Quinnell, Allan Bateman, Scott Gibbs, Alan Tait and Dai Young returned to their roots.
"Farrell and Edwards would be two figures who union has benefitted from, at a club level and internationally," Harrison said.
"They've been key and Shaun's coaching ability has been recognised in France now. Andy is coach of Ireland and that's a major influence these guys have had.
"It's important to mention as well, a key moment for the professionalisation of rugby union was the 1997 Lions tour and the influence of guys returning to rugby union from league. If there was anything which got that Lions team over the line in South Africa, it was that rugby league influence.
"[Coaches] Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer were massive too, but that league professionalism was absolutely key on that tour and that was another major influence of these games at that time."