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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 11:16 GMT
A game of two codes
Jason Critchley
Critchley is still learning all about union
Wales centre Jason Critchley tells BBC Sport Online's Phil Gordos that union and league are as different as chalk and cheese.

Jason Critchley is an expert in codes. But he's no secret agent.

He is just one of a growing number of rugby players who can turn their hand to either union or league.

For the untrained eye, the two sports have plenty in common - but Critchley insists they are anything but similar.

"They are completely different. There is no comparison," he says.

Higher skill level

"Union is a lot more technical, with a higher skill level, but league is a lot tougher on the body."

As if to emphasise the point, Critchley, who began playing union just over two years ago, details the injuries he sustained during his 10-year stint in league.

Union is a lot more technical, with a higher skill level, but league is a lot tougher on the body
  Jason Critchley
The list may not be as lengthy as Evel Knievel's but it is impressive nonetheless.

"I've needed my eye socket and cheekbone reconstructed, dislocated all the fingers in my left hand and had endless problems with my knees," reveals the former Widnes, Salford, Keighley and Castleford player.

"I've still got a metal plate in my left hand.

"Injuries are part and parcel of the game, but since I've been in union I haven't been injured at all."

Softies' sport?

But suggest that union is for softies and you earn a mild rebuke.

"No, you won't catch me saying that," says Critchley. "The union boys are just as hard, but league can be a lot tougher on the body."

Critchley is currently on the books of Leicester Tigers, English rugby union's most dominant club of recent years.

He is enjoying himself immensely but never shut the door completely on league when he made the switch back in 1998.

By playing for Wakefield in union's off-season, he made himself eligible to play for Wales in the Rugby League World Cup - if selected.

When he was duly invited to fulfil a long-held ambition of playing on the highest stage, he found the Tigers were only too willing to let him loose.

No problem

"There was no problem with Leicester at all," says the 29-year-old centre.

"They are a fantastic club with a director of rugby who knows what it means to play at the top level."

Leicester director of rugby Dean Richards
Dean Richards is a big fan of league
He refers, of course, to Dean Richards, once of England and the British Lions.

Richards is also a big admirer of league - so much so that he has advocated proposals for Leicester to establish a league side of their own.

Not only that, he also believes the two codes could well merge in the not too distant future.

Critchley is not so sure.

"I can see Leicester going down the same road as Leeds, who have the Rhinos and Tykes," he says. "But I don't think there will be a merger."

More co-operation

Still, he recognises that there is a lot more co-operation between the two codes these days.

"Defensively, union can learn a lot from league," he says.

"On the other hand, the handling skills in union are a lot better.

"It is a question of learning from each other. I've certainly become a better player since joining union."

But where does Critchley think his future lies?

"I haven't got a preference, but I've only been in union for two years and I've had to learn from scratch," he says.

"I've learned a lot already and I don't want to throw that away."

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