Nadine Dorries mistakes rugby league for union code at World Cup event

Nadine Dorries mistakes rugby league for union code at World Cup event

Nadine Dorries, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, stunned a rugby league audience by confusing the 13-player game with the rival code.

Speaking in St Helens at the launch of a report into the social impact of the upcoming Rugby League World Cup, Dorries opened her address with a reference to Jonny Wilkinson’s match-winning drop goal for England in union’s 2003 Rugby World Cup.

“I’ve always quite liked the idea of rugby league,” she said. “My long-standing memory is that 2003 drop goal. I’ll let you into a secret. I think we were drinking bloody marys at the time. It was 11 o’clock in the morning but wow what a moment that was.”

The predictable reaction led to Dorries tweeting on the matter. She stated: “Like Jason Robinson I may have switched codes in my speech … Both league & union have a rich heritage in the UK. Obviously I’ve followed rugby league much less in my lifetime, but I’m looking forward to watching England (& all the home nations) in the RL World Cup this autumn.”

Dorries had added in her speech: “I have heard and I know from my limited watching that it’s an incredibly physical and sometimes brutal sport and it often ends up in a scrum, which actually reminds me very much of politics. I think we have a lot in common and given a lot of the media like to call me the prime minister’s attack dog, I wonder sometimes if I should give rugby a go.”

Billy Vaughan, vice-chairman of Portico Vine where the event was held, said: “Whoever writes these scripts should check their facts before the speeches are delivered. And secondly, if you are the person who is delivering the speech then you need to do your research to check the information you have been given is correct.

“The difference between rugby league and rugby union is immense – we are the minnow by comparison. I applaud the government for the money they have invested in rugby league but to make that reference to the drop-goal – we were floundered.”

World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton said he would be inviting Dorries back to attend the matches “to see for herself what a wonderful sport rugby league is”.

“We’re delighted that she came,” Dutton said. “We’re delighted that the government has shown such a massive commitment to investing into the tournament and its social impact programme.

“My final words to the secretary of state were that we would be delighted if she were to come back to the tournament, maybe to attend each of the three disciplines and see for herself what a wonderful sport rugby league is.”

The Rugby Football League, chief executive, Ralph Rimmer refused to criticise Dorries for her faux pas, preferring to thank the government for its £25m backing. “I’m not going to dwell on that,” Rimmer said. “It’s brilliant that she’s here and we’ve had fantastic support from the government. I’m not going to knock the shine off any of that. She gets a chance to see us as we really are and good on her for coming up.”

The 2021 Rugby League World Cup, postponed because of the pandemic, takes place in October and November this year.