Four days after trouncing Bath 82-6 in the rugby league leg of the ‘Clash of the Codes’, Wigan Warriors’ class of 1996 travelled to Twickenham for the Rugby Union Middlesex Sevens.
Brian Ashton’s star-studded team, which included the likes of Jason Robinson, Martin Offiah, Shaun Edwards, Henry Paul and Andy Farrell, were the first rugby league to enter the tournament since it’s inception in 1926.
Having recently gone professional, their union rivals were expected to provide tough opposition, however it only highlighted just how far behind the 15-man game still was.
After comfortably disposing of Richmond 48-5 in their opening games, Wigan came up against the competition’s most successful team Harlequins in the quarter-finals.
Having gone behind early, the Cherry & Whites recovered with Va’aiga Tuigamala’s late try securing a 36-24 win and a place in the last four.
Next up were the holders and another powerhouse of the 15-a-side game, Leicester Tigers.
This was a game that really highlighted the difference in speed and skill between the codes, with Wigan running out comfortable 35-12 winners to set up a final against London Wasps.
The final would prove to be a fiery encounter as three early tries gave Wasps a 15-0 advantage, before Wigan hit back with two quick-fire scores of their own to make it 15-14 at half-time.
Trailing by a point, Wigan put on a show in the second-half as they scored 24 unanswered points to storm to the title, winning 38-15 in a show of superior fitness and athleticism.
After the competition, the Daily Express said the league players were “light years ahead in skill, fitness and technique than anything the Union world could offer”.
We had to wait until 2002 to see another rugby league team invited back to the tournament when Bradford Bulls, playing the day after a humbling defeat to St Helens in Super League, repeated Wigan’s heroics to claim the Middlesex crown in dominant fashion.