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Bev Risman calls for rugby codes to merge and 'shake the sporting world'

Published 11/10/2016

Gus Risman is immortalised in bronze in a statue at Wembley. Now his son Bev wants to see both codes of rugby merged into one
Gus Risman is immortalised in bronze in a statue at Wembley. Now his son Bev wants to see both codes of rugby merged into one

Dual-code international Bev Risman claims it is only a matter of time before the two forms of rugby are merged into one and believes it would shake the sporting world.

Risman would like to see "New Rugby" take the best from each code and take on soccer as the country's premier sport.

"I have long been convinced that a combination of the best of both rugbys would provide an exceptional spectacle," he says.

"The mastery of a wide range of skills both in and out of physical contact provides a much greater array of challenges than can be seen on any soccer pitch."

The highly-respected son of all-time league great Gus Risman makes his plea in " Both Sides of the Fence", an autobiography released by Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd, which includes a foreword by writer and broadcaster - and fellow Cumbrian - Melvyn Bragg.

Risman speaks from a position of authority as someone who made his name initially in rugby union, playing for England and touring with the 1959 British and Irish Lions, before switching codes in 1961 and playing with distinction for Leigh and Leeds.

He played for Leeds in the famous "watersplash" Challenge Cup final at Wembley in 1968, was the leading goal-kicker for three seasons and went on to captain Great Britain in the 1968 World Cup in Australia.

Now a sprightly 78, Risman was awarded the OBE in 2011 for services to both codes of rugby and is passionate about each of them.

"Both sports can be equally magnificent spectacles when played to their best but both suffer nowadays due to technicalities in the rules which cause breakdowns in play resulting in too much tackling and kicking and not enough running and handling," he argues.

"How I long for a concerted attempt to bring both sports together, a merger with a revised set of rules and a single line of management that could shake the sporting world.

"It seems to be that the time is right for such a proposal, never before have more nations carried an oval ball.

"In traditional areas, fewer youngsters are taking up the game and clubs are fishing in the same, smaller pools.

"History and heritage does not have to be ditched. They did after all come from the same initial course and the world has moved on. The best of each makes a more than considerable, sustainable whole."

Risman has come up with his own ideas, drawn on more than 60 years of experience as player, coach and administrator in both codes, and taken soundings from both sides of the fence to overcome the obvious obstacles. He has also drawn up a template for the new game.

Teams would be 13-a-side - that, he says, provides more space for open play and reduces congestion around the ruck, maul, scrum and line-out - and line-outs would comprise between three and six players from each side.

Scoring would comprise five points for a try, two for a penalty or conversion and one for a drop goal, placing greater emphasis on handling than kicking.

Risman would also like to see the adoption of league's 40-20 kick and a turnover from where the ball is kicked if it goes dead.

His most radical suggestion is that no tries could be scored directly from a kick in an effort to put the focus on more passing close to the line, and argues that league's play-the-ball, with the limited tackle rule, should be implemented rather than the ruck and maul.

"The union ruck is an exciting area for many connoisseurs of the game but is a complete mystery for the casual spectator, whereas the play-the-ball, used by most union clubs in training, is a much simpler and less dangerous operation," he says.

Risman says barriers to greater co-operation are being eroded, pointing to the success of Sonny Bill Williams in flitting between the two codes, and wants to see a specific timetable drawn up for change and trials carried out.

"The potential for success is limitless, not least in terms of global spread," he adds. "There is no doubt in my mind that, in the fullness of time, the two sports will be as one."

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