Nadine Dorries' rugby league comments: what did culture secretary say at Rugby League World Cup 2022 launch?

The Cabinet minister confused rugby league with rugby union at a press conference

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries is known for her controversial opinions on topics like cancel culture and transgender rights, as well her combative social media presence.

But the divisive Cabinet minister also has a reputation for making gaffes.

In a recent Parliamentary select committee hearing covering her ministerial portfolio, Ms Dorries could not explain how Channel 4 was funded.

She has also been accused of making racist comments and was suspended by the Conservative Party for appearing on ITV show I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

Nadine Dorries confused rugby league and rugby union in her latest gaffe (image: Getty Images)

And now, at the launch of the delayed Rugby League World Cup - due to be held in England later this year - the Conservative MP has put her foot in it again.

So what did Nadine Dorries say about rugby league - and why was her reference wrong?

Here’s what you need to know.

Who is Nadine Dorries?

Nadine Dorries, 65, was born in Liverpool in 1957.

She is the government minister in charge of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

A broad range of areas are within her remit, including regulation of the internet, the BBC licence fee and cultural funding.

Rugby league and rugby union are very different sports (image: Getty Images)

As well as her Cabinet role, Ms Dorries is the MP for Mid Bedfordshire, a seat she has held for 17 years.

Aside from her political career, she is also an author and has written 15 novels.

What did Nadine Dorries say about rugby league?

As the minister who looks after sport in the UK, Nadine Dorries had been invited to give a speech at the launch of the delayed Rugby League World Cup 2021 on Thursday (30 June).

The event took place in St Helens - several miles away from where she was raised - and marked the starting gun for the tournament, which is set to kick off in Newcastle on 15 October.

During her speech, Ms Dorries confused rugby league with rugby union.

"I’ve always quite liked the idea of rugby league. My long-standing memory is that 2003 drop goal,” she said.

"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."

Nadine Dorries is known for her combative presence on Twitter (image: Getty Images)

The moment she was referencing was the England rugby union team’s last-minute victory against Australia at the World Cup in 2003.

Fly half Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal sealed the final for Sir Clive Woodward’s team with just seconds remaining on the clock.

England’s rugby league side have never won the league equivalent of the World Cup, but were runners up at the last tournament in 2017.

The Great Britain team, which the England and Welsh teams feed into every other tournament, has won it twice.

Why is rugby league different from rugby union?

While both types of rugby use an oval ball that has to be thrown backwards, rugby union and rugby league are very different games.

The two codes separated in 1895 when rugby league broke away from rugby union (which was amateur at the time) to form a professional competition.

England have never won the Rugby League World Cup (image: Getty Images)

These are the key differences between the games:

  • Rugby league has 13 players on each side, while rugby union has 15
  • Tries are worth four points in rugby league and five points in rugby union
  • Scrums involve three players on each side rather than the eight used in rugby union
  • After a player is tackled in rugby league, there is no competition for the ball. In rugby union, both teams can compete for the ball at any point before, during or after a tackle
  • In rugby league, teams have five phases of play in which to score. If they have succumbed to six tackles and have not scored, possession is handed to the other team. In rugby union, possession is held by a team until: they score, they have the ball stolen from them, or the ball goes out of play.

As a very general rule of thumb, rugby league is more popular in the north of England, while rugby union is more popular in the south of the country.

Given her northern roots, it might have been expected that Nadine Dorries would know the difference between rugby league and rugby union.

What has Nadine Dorries said since rugby league gaffe?

Several hours after her speech, Nadine Dorries acknowledged her gaffe on Twitter.

She referenced former dual-code international Jason Robinson, who played rugby league before switching to rugby union and winning the 2003 World Cup.

She wrote: “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.”

After the incident, Rugby Football League chief executive Ralph Rimmer struck a forgiving tone.

"I’m not going to dwell on [the gaffe]. 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,” he said.

"She gets a chance to see us as we really are, and good on her for coming up."