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  1. #1
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    Is rugby league or union the future

    Why rugby league is obviously better than rugby union

    Everything about rugby league, from its viewing figures to the values that underpin its history, is superior to its cross-code sibling. So why does union continue to get all the media coverage, asks Stuart Maconie.

    On attaining government, David Cameron is said to have found the prospect of deep and wounding cuts to the BBC "delicious". In much the same rather juvenile way, I must confess that being asked by The Telegraph to write a pro-rugby league polemic feels equally scrumptious if you grew up in the rougher streets of North West England. But while relishing the chance for some small, belated revenge on everyone from the PE teachers at my hopelessly snobbish Grammar School who made us play union even in the northern heartlands of league to the Rugger Buggers who blighted my student discos, the temptation to wage a little desultory class war has to be avoided.
    Why? Because I mustn’t undermine my near watertight case (namely that rugby league is a vastly superior sport in almost every way except establishment acceptance) by petty point scoring, however tempting.

    I genuinely believe, as many right thinking people do, that contrary to prejudiced assumption and received wisdom, league trumps union every time as an entertainment: faster, more creative, tougher, more skilful.

    Add into this a little social seasoning though, and the dish gets undeniably tastier. We acolytes of the northern code feel hard done to; we're chippy, thanks to our keen sense of injustice that is whetted by our treatment at the hands of a snobbish elite. Last weekend's Rugby League Challenge Cup Final between Leeds and Hull Kingston Rovers drew a crowd of some 90,000 fans plus a global TV audience of millions (league regularly attracts four times as many viewers as union). To add even more significance to the occasion, the match fell on Rugby League’s birthday, it being 120 years since the invention of the sport in the George Hotel, Huddersfield.

    Celebrations were decidedly muted in our mainstream media though. Much more prominence was given to the fact that union, the posher, southern variety of the original code, was having a jamboree of its own called, with irritating presumption, the Rugby World Cup. I take great pleasure in correcting this to Rugby Union World Cup every time I am called upon to mention it on air. Of such small victories are life’s long wars won.

    Rugby divides along social strata. League is northern and working class, union is middle class and largely southern. (Don’t bring Wales into it. It confuses matters.) In 1895, an iron curtain was drawn across the sport. Tired of administrative bullying from the southern elite who ran the game. twenty-two northern clubs voted to secede from the amateur Rugby Football Union or RFU. The breakaway contingent were comprised of players who were industrial workers in mills, mines, foundries and docks, and who unlike their southern counterparts, moneyed and privately educated, couldn’t afford to take time off work to play rugby. So-called ‘broken time payments’ – compensation paid by the clubs – were rather sniffily dismissed by the RFU establishment as contrary to the game’s amateur spirit. So the Northern Football Union, later the Rugby Football League, announced its separation from the RFU. Piqued and indignant the RFU issued lifetime bans to any player who associated with the northern faction.

    In effect, those maverick, bolshie twenty-two told the boss to shove it, and thus rugby league was born. Over the next few years, league evolved into a different sport, less reliant on kicking and mauling, generally fleeter, less stop-start and, well, better. But then I would say that. I’m from Wigan, one of those 22 original rebels and the greatest club side in the history of the sport. My dad brought me up to support Wigan, to be hostile to St Helens, Leeds and Warrington and to have a deep suspicion and ingrained lack of respect for union, believing that 30 people was an absurd, unworkable amount for one pitch and that the code was essentially devised to occupy as many public school boys as possible on a wet Wednesday afternoon.

    My dad is probably a good example of a league man. Ex-factory worker from Gullick Dobson (maker of hydraulic pit props), Labour party member, stood on the terraces at Central Park watching Wigan from the 50s onwards, days of full employment in the industrial north when 50,000 or so men in overcoats, mufflers and flat caps would cheer on the likes of Billy Boston, Eric Ashton and Vince Karalius. (Incidentally, we should say that this is nothing compared to the 102,575 who watched Warrington play Halifax in 1954. Some say the figure was more like 120,000. It remains the biggest attendance at a rugby match of any kind or code in the Northern Hemisphere. Take that, Wasps, Saracens and ‘Quins.)

    We in the North think we have the measure of the Union Man. Range rover, driving gloves, Top Gear fan, thinks Clarkson talks "bloody good sense", tempted by Ukip, tankard behind the bar and a pint before lunch on a Sunday. This is a veritable tsunami of sweeping generalisation of course, smacking of trollish, smouldering resentment. But more expert minds than I have unearthed smoking guns and paper trails revealing Blatter-ish skulduggery down the years from the Union camp. George Clarke claimed recently in the New Statesman that the Nazis persuaded the Vichy government to outlaw rugby league; since then, union dignitaries have deliberately stifled league’s growth in Japan, Serbia, South Africa and Italy. And there's the case of Cambridge student Ady Spencer, who was banned by the RFU from playing in the 1994 Varsity Rugby Union match because he’d played league as youngster in his native Warrington (the incident travelled all the way to Parliament, where it was condemned as “injustice and interference with human rights”).

    I might not go that far, but I do concur with my North Eastern friend Neil who once said to me that he did have a sneaking liking for rugby union in that "it was always nice to see coppers and barristers getting knocked about a bit on their day off". Chippy? Nous?
    Why rugby league is obviously better than rugby union - Telegraph

  2. #2
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    Set of six: rugby league attracts four times as many as union on TV

    1) International rescue
    On each of the last two weekends, the most-watched rugby game of either code in England has been at Headingley.

    Leeds's Challenge Cup fifth-round tie against St Helens attracted a seven-figure audience on BBC1, more than four times as many as watched union's Saracens-Clermont Auvergne European Cup tie the same Saturday afternoon.

    Last Friday it was a similar story, with the Leeds-Wigan Super League blockbuster on Sky Sports 1 inevitably outrating BT Sport's offerings from the Premiership at Bath and Sale – and the 18,139 crowd at Headingley also making it the best-attended rugby match of the weekend.

    But before rugby league folk start getting chippy, or unionists cranky, that's not written as a boast. It's more of a question to provoke a little league soul-searching. Why don't figures like that register more? The main reason is the credibility and profile of union's international game, as compared to league's.

    Which brings us to Paul Kent. Actually that's a bit unfair on Kent, who reports on league and other sports for the Murdoch-owned media stable in Sydney. His comments about "not giving two hoots" about the Samoa-Fiji international that was played in Sydney last weekend were given a bit of a spin, and from my experience were far from untypical of the attitude of Sydney-based rugby league writers (and administrators) anyway.

    I actually thought Kent's later explanations were more interesting and, in a way, damning. He has no objection to international rugby league, just doesn't see why the NRL has to be disrupted for it.

    Again, it was easy to see his point – the NRL was on a bit of a roll after the Easter and ANZAC weekends, after a slow start to the season. But I think I'm right in stating that it's not only outspoken pundits such as BBC radio's Alan Green who get frustrated when the Premier League football season is interrupted by international fixtures, whether competitive or friendly. In those cases, the Aussies benefit, as the European clubs who employ the majority of their players are required to release them to play for their country.

    Football, like rugby union, has a credible international game. League doesn't, but there is potential, as the World Cup showed last autumn. Only Australia can make it work.

    Fortunately, the mood seems to be changing. Phil Gould pretty much nailed it in his weekly Set of Six column in the Sydney Morning Herald (not the original, but certainly the best-informed).

    But there is still a way to go. The Rugby Football League have pushed the new concussion rules to their limit in banging their head against a wall trying to persuade the Aussies to show some enthusiasm for reviving a Great Britain Lions tour next autumn. Hopefully the appointment of Nigel Wood, the RFL's chief executive and a confirmed internationalist, as the new chairman of the International Federation might help. With a union World Cup on in Europe, it would seem imperative for league to arrange as much international rugby as possible in the southern hemisphere, so that the players of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, France, even Italy and the United States, are not left enviously twiddling their thumbs. Over to you, chaps.

    2) Old boys triumph, part one
    Back to Leeds last Friday. The Rhinos were brilliant, and Wigan therefore far from disgraced, especially given the calibre of players they were missing. The Leeds backs grabbed most of the headlines, as they have been doing all season – and why not, when Ryan Hall, Kallum Watkins and Zak Hardaker are staking a strong claim to be the first three names on Steve McNamara's England teamsheet for the Four Nations this autumn? But the old men of the Rhinos front-row, Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Peacock, will have slept well over the weekend, content in the knowledge they had made a point to Shaun Wane and his young Wigan thrusters who looked to have overtaken them last year.

    The rematch at the Etihad on Saturday week, when Wigan could have Sean O'Loughlin and the under-rated Welsh thruster Ben Flower back in their pack, could be fascinating.

    3) Leeds show Hull the way
    For reasons that will be explained in tackle four, I got to Headingley very early last Friday, and therefore soaked up more of their matchday operation than usual. It's impossible not to be impressed, by the quality and especially quantity of corporate entertainment going on behind the scenes, even before the match kicks off with the vibrant atmosphere of a ground that has been steadily and intelligently modernised, but retains old-fashioned terraces on three sides out of four.

    Of course Leeds are at a considerable advantage, as one of only three Super League clubs based in a city where league can at least compete with football. Hull and Hull KR are the others, and while Rovers would seem to be punching their weight with average crowds of around 8,000 at the redeveloped Craven Park, the underachievement of the Black and Whites continues.

    As previously stated (in tipping Hull to fail to make the top eight), I reckon their owner Adam Pearson has made a sound start in appointing Lee Radford as coach, to build long-term success along the models of Leeds, St Helens and Wigan around a nucleus of homegrown youngsters. The goal for Pearson, Radford and everyone else involved in Hull's operation should be recreating the Friday night buzz of Headingley at the KC Stadium.

    4) Old boys triumph, part two
    The reason for an early arrival at Headingley wasn't the second team Twenty20 double header between Lancashire and Yorkshire on the cricket ground. Leeds had organised a celebration of the development of student rugby league since Andrew Cudbertson, Jack Abernathy and a few other league lovers persuaded the president of the Student Union, a chap with political ambitions by the name of Jack Straw, to defy the Rugby Football Union ban on the "professional code" in 1967.

    The function, which also incorporated the 2014 Student Rugby League awards, was excellent, with Ray French, another Leeds Uni old boy, sharing some entertaining reflections of his own student days, and Anne Thompson, the widow of the late, great Cec, lending some further class to the occasion.

    I happened to be sitting next to Gary Hetherington, the Leeds chief executive – he was MC-ing and at one point even asked me how to pronounce frangipane before inviting the guests to enjoy their pudding (he obviously didn't trust me, as in the end he just said dessert). But Gary was struck by the potential to do so much more with the Student Rugby League alumni.

    On this as so many other things, he's dead right. Even as we were eating, Jon Wells, a law graduate from Leeds, was across the car park in the Sky truck, preparing for his pitchside analysis of that night's match. Andy Raleigh, the unsung prop who played a prominent role in Wakefield's crucial win at Hull, is another product of the student game. Alex Walmsley, the St Helens prop who is surely on course for senior international honours, is another, and they are only the recent graduates. There must be so many more of an older vintage – French, Bev Risman and Roger Draper are three who spring immediately to mind.

    It will take a fair amount of organisation, of course. But the benefits to league could be significant.

    5) Made of Granite?
    This week's slightly delayed Six comes to you from Nethy Bridge, a lovely little village in the Cairngorms, en route to the Scotland-England one-day cricket international in Aberdeen. Not much rugby league up here, you'd have thought. You'd be wrong. I'm looking forward to meeting up later with the Aberdeen Warriors, the reigning Scottish champions, who made their Challenge Cup debut against the famous St Helens amateur club Pilkingtons Recs earlier this year. I can't help a nagging feeling that not enough has been done to capitalise on the success of the Scotland team in last year's World Cup, though. Another one for Nigel Wood and the International Federation.

    6) Going the extra 603 miles
    Finally this week, and certainly not least, an exhortation for support for the masochistic group who are keeping Steve Prescott's spirit alive by walking from Land's End to John O'Groats (they were last heard of somewhere between Monmouth and Tintern Abbey, so I'm guessing they won't make it to Scotland by Friday).

    The admirable bunch includes Prescott's former St Helens team-mates Paul Sculthorpe, Tommy Martyn and Lee Briers, plus the ex-football referee Mark Halsey, whose high profile has secured precious extra publicity beyond the usual rugby league circles (a retweet by Michael Owen last week reached 1.7m followers, for example).

    Anyway, good luck to them all, spread the word, and get behind them if you can. As previously, funds raised are going to Rugby League Cares and the Christie.
    Set of six: rugby league attracts four times as many as union on TV | Andy Wilson | Sport | The Guardian

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    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Everything about rugby league, from its viewing figures to the values that underpin its history, is superior to its cross-code sibling...
    ... In the UK... And Aust. Which is precisely why it's not 'superior': limited audience.

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    Being less established internationally doesn't make a game inferior. The discussion is about the future. The union game envies our attractiveness.

  • #6
    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steam
    The union game envies our attractiveness
    It does? I think that might be news to RU.
    Quote Originally Posted by Steam
    The discussion is about the future
    Goodo. Well then RL needs to do something about its international comps/presence then.

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    It's a good game, but it ain't gonna win. Been trying for years.The RLWC is a joke....Just look at the sides involved (Except for UK,Aussie and NZ)

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    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Yeah, ain't that the truth.

    Don't mind me a bit of RL. I'll watch the NRL if it's on (but by default have to support the Warriors ) usually catch the SOO and will of course back the Kiwis if they're playing but it's a bit of a joke at International level and can't touch RU outside of areas of England, Australia, and very, very small pockets of NZ.

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    Thailand Expat Pragmatic's Avatar
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    League is the way forward. Union isn't the game it was 15 years ago or more. Too much deliberate blocking these days.

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    Rugby League is a good game. In Convictland it may get higher ratings than Rugby Union, but that would not be the case in the UK or anywhere else in the world; the game just isn't as global as Union.

    In the UK, League had a good go of it under Sky Sports about 20 years ago, but has seen less media/viewing interest since whereas Rugby Union looks to be more successful across the board as a spectator and participator sport.

    A quick brows of statistics available for the UK sees League as a regional sport in England with between 10%-15% the amount of clubs and registered players as Union. It's a good game.
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    League just bores me, I've tried to sit through a whole game numerous times but failed and outside of certain parts of North England is there really any mass interest in the sport in the UK? To get people interested needs to start with playing it at school, Union is played at schools across the whole UK, whoever played league at school in the UK?

  • #12
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    I genuinely believe, as many right thinking people do, that contrary to prejudiced assumption and received wisdom, league trumps union every time as an entertainment: faster, more creative, tougher, more skilful.
    entertainment: it's shampoo. run, get tackled 5 times, kick, rinse and repeat. Seriously lacking in strategy and variety.
    faster: it is faster, because they don't have anything else to do but wash their hair.
    more creative: 555, this guy is kidding himself. There's no rucks or lineouts or scrums to work off, just shampoo.
    tougher: They don't get stomped on at the bottom of rucks they just rinse and repeat.
    more skillful: Again no extra skills needed to win rucks or lineouts or scrums, just shampoo rinse and repeat.

    The rest of the article goes on about some rubbish about the class system that is endemic to the Poms but not really of a concern to other more developed nations. How that makes the shampoo game better, I don't know.
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    Whatever happens schools will still play Union?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steam
    My dad is probably a good example of a league man. Ex-factory worker from Gullick Dobson (maker of hydraulic pit props), Labour party member, stood on the terraces at Central Park watching Wigan from the 50s onwards, days of full employment in the industrial north when 50,000 or so men in overcoats, mufflers and flat caps would cheer on the likes of Billy Boston, Eric Ashton and Vince Karalius. (Incidentally, we should say that this is nothing compared to the 102,575 who watched Warrington play Halifax in 1954. Some say the figure was more like 120,000. It remains the biggest attendance at a rugby match of any kind or code in the Northern Hemisphere. Take that, Wasps, Saracens and ‘Quins.)
    Thems were the days...Central Park, Wigan...now a supermarket car park, and Odsal Stadium at Bradford...thems were the days for sure

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    I think Steam started this thread for a shit stir.


    And it sure is working the claws are out girls.

  • #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by AntRobertson View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Steam
    The union game envies our attractiveness
    It does? I think that might be news to RU.
    Quote Originally Posted by Steam
    The discussion is about the future
    Goodo. Well then RL needs to do something about its international comps/presence then.
    The reason union has greater geographic coverage is because it has been amateur for most if its history and there wasn't much money in the game until recently. That prevented league from spreading. That doesn't make it a better game to play or watch.

    I think union is partly why football is so popular. It cannot compete for spectator appeal because it's a slower more tedious and crowded game. I'm a retired union player but I'd rather watch a football world cup than the current union affair which has less than half the history of the rugby league world cup.

    If union disappeared in a puff of smoke tomorrow it would be immediately replaced by league and its popularity density would more than double.

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    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steam
    The reason union has greater geographic coverage is because it has been amateur for most if its history and there wasn't much money in the game until recently. That prevented league from spreading. That doesn't make it a better game to play or watch.
    I don't quite see the connection there. How does Union having been amateur and not having had money in the game prevent the spread of RL?

    And anyway 'better' is a subjective judgment call. Objectively RU is larger and has more global appeal and - as has already been pointed out - that hasn't changed since inception and likely won't now.

    Personally I don't see why people can't just enjoy and appreciate both for what they are or, at the very least, if you don't enjoy one or the other then simply don't watch it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Steam
    If union disappeared in a puff of smoke tomorrow it would be immediately replaced by league and its popularity density would more than double.
    If my uncle became my aunt and disappeared in a puff of smoke tomorrow we would launch a search party for her.

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    Ah yes....happy memories of watching the great Billy Boston with Eddie Waring commentating.
    Now that Union has become professional I guess the 2 codes will eventually amalgamate. Saturday's highlights; Wigan vs Saracens and Northampton vs HKR.
    Why not?

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    " [at]genuinely believe, as many right thinking people do, that contrary to prejudiced assumption and received wisdom, league trumps union every time as an entertainment: faster, more creative, tougher, more skilful."

    If it is so good, why all the agnst and moaning ?

    Just get on with proving it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AntRobertson View Post
    Everything about rugby league, from its viewing figures to the values that underpin its history, is superior to its cross-code sibling...
    ... In the UK... And Aust. Which is precisely why it's not 'superior': limited audience.
    No big nations follow Union. It is big in NZ a tiny nation. It is a minor sport elsewhere.

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    Quote Originally Posted by buriramboy View Post
    League just bores me, I've tried to sit through a whole game numerous times but failed and outside of certain parts of North England is there really any mass interest in the sport in the UK? To get people interested needs to start with playing it at school, Union is played at schools across the whole UK, whoever played league at school in the UK?

    Far more tries than Union. Union is a kicking contest. 3 pts for a penalty is a joke.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bettyboo View Post
    Rugby League is a good game. In Convictland it may get higher ratings than Rugby Union, but that would not be the case in the UK or anywhere else in the world; the game just isn't as global as Union.

    In the UK, League had a good go of it under Sky Sports about 20 years ago, but has seen less media/viewing interest since whereas Rugby Union looks to be more successful across the board as a spectator and participator sport.

    A quick brows of statistics available for the UK sees League as a regional sport in England with between 10%-15% the amount of clubs and registered players as Union. It's a good game.
    Convictland is the UK and most convicts watch Football not Union.

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    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by baconandeggs View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by AntRobertson View Post
    Everything about rugby league, from its viewing figures to the values that underpin its history, is superior to its cross-code sibling...
    ... In the UK... And Aust. Which is precisely why it's not 'superior': limited audience.
    No big nations follow Union. It is big in NZ a tiny nation. It is a minor sport elsewhere.
    Well the RWC is the second most attended event in the world behind the FIFA equivalent so saying it's only big in NZ is clearly not the case.

    Even if it were so RL is substantially less so. So what's your point?

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    Quote Originally Posted by AntRobertson View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Steam
    The reason union has greater geographic coverage is because it has been amateur for most if its history and there wasn't much money in the game until recently. That prevented league from spreading. That doesn't make it a better game to play or watch.
    I don't quite see the connection there. How does Union having been amateur and not having had money in the game prevent the spread of RL?

    And anyway 'better' is a subjective judgment call. Objectively RU is larger and has more global appeal and - as has already been pointed out - that hasn't changed since inception and likely won't now.

    Personally I don't see why people can't just enjoy and appreciate both for what they are or, at the very least, if you don't enjoy one or the other then simply don't watch it.
    Union developed as a participant sport for amateurs and spread throughout the British Empire and beyond to places like Argentina before league existed, because people wanted to play it. It was never a popular spectator sport.

    League developed as a spectator sport for professionals with adjusted game play to make it a faster superior spectator sport able to be enjoyed by the masses who lacked the greater knowledge required to understand and enjoy the complexities of union. It obviously wasn't going to develop around the world quickly if people didn't want to pay to watch it outside of its heartlands.

    With the advent of televised sport for the masses union was envious and realised it needed a world cup and professional standard players so used its greater geographic spread to pull the rug from under league's spread by copying its business format.

    I wish it hadn't because rugby league would be able to compete with football as a spectator sport in the 21st century if the amateurs had stayed amateur. Union can't and never will be able to compete with football for appeal.

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    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Well that's an interesting take on things. Kind of ignores the fact that RU has been televised since the start though and that RL was raiding the ranks of RU and that the turn to professionalism was an inevitability (and really nothing to do with RL).

    It's all woulda/coulda/shoulda though, hypotheticals, because RL has never been as widespread or popular as RU and most likely never will be.

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