England v Italy Six Nations 2017 – “No Rucks Given!” as England take a Try Bonus Point against the Azzurri
Well; that game got the rugby world debating, didn’t it?
The win was sealed and the boys grabbed a TBP, but the game was not without its controversy and ups and downs. England were poor for large parts of the game, and Italy turned up with a rather unique game plan to try and make a dent in the reigning champion’s hopes of a consecutive Grand Slam.
(Image from England Rugby Facebook)
Whilst their tactic was not a new thing, what was unique was employing the “no ruck” tactic throughout practically the entire game. And it all caused one heck of a stir.
My take on Italy’s tactics
Here’s the thing: Italy are hotly debated in terms of whether they should even be a part of the Six Nations still. Scotland are quickly improving having already scalped Ireland and Wales in their home games, and it’s all leaving Italy behind.
For years now the status quo has been everyone gunning to thrash the jocks and the Azzurri. Personally, I don’t like that. I have long dreamed of a wide-open tournament where all teams can compete and anyone can grab it. But the planes are shifting, and it started with the Scots who are on the rise. I and many others tipped them as a dark horse for the tournament, and they haven’t proved me wrong.
So, that leaves Italy behind, and with Georgia screaming at the door for a relegation and promotion opportunity, it’s clear that Connor O’Shea’s appointment as their head coach was a statement that Italy meant business. When he was interviewed at the cusp of his tenure, he said that he wanted Italy to be “horrible to play” against. Building a team takes years, and we all knew it wasn’t going to be a quick process. So, O’Shea and his coaching team had a think, and they thought outside the box.
And I say fair play to them.
England caught off guard
England remains a young team who lack on-field leaders. This is why Hartley is first choice hooker. For me, George is way better, but we lack leaders with plenty of caps under their belt. Unfortunately, this is where England then went on to struggle against Italy’s “no ruck” tactic.
Combatting it is simple. I and I expect millions of others were sat screaming at their TV’s “go through the bloody middle!” It isn’t hard at all. You pick and go, and maybe maul the ball half the length of the field as well. Let’s face it, Italy weren’t up to matching us physically, which is why the “no ruck” tactic was a good shout; so, we should’ve just steamrolled them through the middle.
But it took the half time oranges for the coaching staff (it seems) to have to tell England to change tactics. For me, it identified a flaw in England’s thinking. England’s tactics were clearly quite lateral, and when something went outside the realms of what they expected, they fell apart.
Of course, by the second half, England a few times played Italy at their own game, and they were more careful when playing the ball, and went through the middle. That sealed the win with a rather easy second half runout where we dominated Italy into a bonus point victory.
A lesson learned
I’ll defend Hask, who has become the butt of internet jokes for asking the ref about the rules. He knows the rules - what he was trying to do was clarify what the ref wanted to see, and that’s a common thing for players to ask refs. The thing is, rugby is so complicated that games that can be won and lost because of how a ref manages a game. You need to be on side with the ref and show you are trying to play legally. All he wanted to know was what the ref wanted to see from England to force Italy in to rucks; mainly because, for some bizarre reason, Poite a few times seemed to shout at the England pack for trying to legally form a ruck.
Of course, the likes of England-hating “Wales Online” and other such red-top partisan outlets had a field day with it all. Funnily enough, I imagine 90% of the plastic fans and fair weather Six Nations “supporters” probably didn’t have a clue what the offside at the ruck rule was anyway. But I digress…
Anyway, like I said earlier, it identified our lack of leaders, and was hopefully a valuable lesson moving forward.
Where Italy right or wrong to do what they did?
For that game, they were absolutely right. Why should they roll over and let England smash them?
Connor O’Shea played a very clever game. In my opinion, he picked the England game specifically to do it because he knew it would cause the biggest media fuss. For some reason, plenty of so-called “fans” still live and die by the mantra of “anyone but England”, and with England being the reigning champs, it was set to cause a right old ruckus (no pun intended) – and it did.
So well done O’Shea and team. That was brilliant, and I thoroughly applaud you for what you did. I actually really enjoyed watching it, and I think Italy were absolutely right to do it.
However – they can’t keep doing it. What Eddie Jones said is also right – it isn’t rugby. It’s not against the law, and I’m not bashing Italy for doing it, but if they keep doing it, we’ll see a change of the law before the sport is ruined. The point of rugby it so be physical and compete at breakdowns. This is Union, not League.
So, in terms of a one-trick pony effort to try and shut the press up about whether Italy deserve their place in the tournament or not, it was a brilliantly executed plan. I hope they have something else in store for the rest of their games to; but not the same tactic.
Did Eddie Jones and England overact?
No. Eddie Jones is a media mastermind who knew exactly what he was doing when he went on a plastic “rant” about it all. From day one he has superbly led the media on a tight leash by taking the flack off the players and dumping it all on himself. Once again, I thank Eddie Jones for this “sacrifice” of sorts. So, for those whining about his reaction, you’re not seeing the bigger picture at what he’s doing. He’s not whining at all. He’s doing his job.
Keep it up EJ – you’ve been doing it since day one and it’s worked a treat. Behind closed doors, he probably buzzed O’Shea and gave him a verbal pat on the back for what Italy did.
The game on the whole
So, a little on the game…
It was a really sloppy start, which wasn’t helped by Italy’s “no ruck” tactics. The boys made some poor decisions and were under a lot of pressure. Faz missed too many kicks, which was unusual. On the whole, they were totally rattled by Italy’s tactics.
The second half was a different game entirely. Perfectly executed runs lead to tries, and Mako and George were brought on to help smash through the Italians who continued to hang around the tackle area and ensure there was no offside line. We had a little spell of some atrocious defence that saw Campo go over for an Italian score, but other than that, the second half was a lot more fluid.
Nowell and Ford stood out for me in terms of running lines and passing the ball. Hopefully the boys can chalk this off as a massive lesson learned, and make sure to be a lot more prepared for Scotland next week who pose a genuine threat of toppling England’s chances of back-to-back silverware.
That will be an interesting game.
The Italy “no ruck” tactic explained
In case you’re wondering – the offside line for a ruck is only created when a ruck is formed. For a ruck to be formed, there has to be at least one player from each side in physical contact when the ball is grounded after a tackle. What Italy were doing was completing the tackle and then not hitting the England boys to form a ruck. This left a tackled England player on the ground, a scrum half looking to recycle the ball, and the England players defending a ball and a tackled player against no one.
As such, there was no offside line. This allowed the Italians to go beyond where the ball was grounded and disrupt the scrum half’s efforts to recycle the ball. Had they have joined and formed a ruck, they wouldn’t be allowed to start moving beyond the line of where the ruck is formed until the scrum half was actually playing the ball.
That’s a quick simple explanation for it anyway.
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