NADINE Dorries has probably dropped a few clangers in her time in politics, but for a secretary of state in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to mix up the two codes of rugby pretty much takes the biscuit.

For a cabinet minister to do it at an event to celebrate the positive impact the Rugby League World Cup is having on the communities that are the backbone of the game was pretty much unforgiveable.

Some argue there is no such thing as bad publicity and the reaction to Dorries’ gaffe when addressing the audience at Portico Vine ARLFC brought the Rugby League World Cup column inches only rivalled by the Prince Harry making the cup draw at Buckingham Palace ahead of his royal exit.

In declaring her soft spot for rugby LEAGUE Dorries revealed her favourite anecdote of ‘our’ sport came in 2003 whilst drinking Bloody Marys and watching Jonny Wilkinson kick the drop goal that won England the rugby UNION World Cup for the first time.

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Nadine Dorries.

Those that think ‘so what, it was just a mix up between two sports that have an oval ball and aitches as posts’ completely ignore the history of our game, why it broke away, its subsequent relationship with union and why it has constantly battled for a fair crack, particularly in the national media, against a fair degree of prejudice and snobbery.

The government minister responsible for sport – with access to SPADS and Civil Service briefings ahead of such key launches and speeches – should as a bare minimum know the very basic difference between the codes. That is her job – it is not like my poor old nan getting snooker and pool mixed up and saying, “Well it’s all a load of balls anyway.”

Maybe it was the case that she had been given a well-prepared speech and that only went awry when she went off script to be natural, and in doing so exposed her paucity of rugby league knowledge.

Will there be any penalty other than embarrassment? Given the relentless scandal that afflicts the corridors of power these days, Dorries’ clanger is a fair way down the scale of those. Much further down if you read this week’s Private Eye.

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 Secretary of State, DCMS Nadine Dorries at the launch of RLWC 2021 Social Impact Programme Chair of RLWC Chris Brindley and Billy Vaughan from the club. Pic:


But it does matter – and no doubt there was a fair bit of wincing from the 2019 breed of Tory MPs encapsulated by ‘Workington Man’ representing the industrial and sadly post-industrial northern towns that voted to get Brexit done delivering Blue MPs to rugby league seats like Leigh, Dewsbury, Warrington South, Copeland, Keighley and Workington itself.

Wakefield was on that list – but that has gone back to Labour after the recent by-election lost in the middle of another scandal.

The money that has been given to projects in those Rugby League World Cup host towns to help build things like the magnificent club house at Portico Vine has come as a small part of the “levelling up” strategy. It is also to support England hosting a big global sporting event post Covid lockdown (but sadly not post Covid).

It is a real shame that the minister, whose department oversees sport, could not find a positive rugby league story to re-tell. Surely someone could have briefed her about Clive Sullivan’s length of the field try helping deliver Great Britain’s last World Cup 50 years ago.

It would not have been an authentic memory, but it would have been better than making a complete pig’s ear of it that drowned out the whole event.

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But without letting Dorries off the hook for her ignorance, maybe her mix up shows the effects that success and failure at international sport has had.

The Wilkinson drop goal, as demonstrated by Dorries, was celebrated by folk who barely knew what shape the ball was let alone the rules of the game.

And without a doubt England’s victory – with the only try coming from league man Jason Robinson – has allowed the 15-man code to blossom, with that national success feeding into the club game at Premiership level and below.

Teams that three decades ago that were watched by three men and dog and now packing them in. That is in part from the bonus the exposure to international success brings.

Days in the spotlight for international rugby league in England have been sadly limited due to a combination of the Australians flitting between being dominant to being totally dismissive.

But since Sullivan’s try in France in 1972 which other test and World Cup memories stand out?

What little league nugget could a Whitehall SPAD have put on a plate for Dorries to digest and regurgitate as an authentic yarn?

An early morning wake-up for Henderson Gill’s long range try and a bit of a boogie in the 1988 third test at Sydney?

Lee Crooks’ magnificent touchline conversion at Elland Road to level the series with the Kiwis after a bloody third test at Elland Road in 1985 or Joe Lydon’s super try at Old Trafford against the Kangaroos in 1986?

Then there was Jonathan Davies’ exquisite wonder try at Wembley in 1994 – surely that must have ticked a few extra boxes.

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Or Adrian Morley’s first minute red card against the Roos in 2003 or the Josh Dugan ankle tap on Kalum Watkins in the World Cup Final of 2017?

All great moments, but not a series or tournament win among them.

Maybe it goes to show that to get our code’s exploits lodged into the sporting folklore of the nation (and maybe even the Minister in charge) then we need to win the World Cup.

No pressure.