I agree lock, stock and barrel with Uncle Eddie. The Six Nations match at Twickenham between England and Italy was a farce and the spectators who were there to witness the unseasonal pantomime should heed the advice of Eddie Jones, the England head coach. Demand recompense! Not from the Rugby Football Union, but from World Rugby, which governs the laws of rugby union (sometimes not very well).
Italy repeatedly declined to commit anyone to the breakdown after the initial tackle had been made, meaning that the offside law was redundant because no ruck had been formed. And the Italians, with their half backs to the fore, were able to block potential English passing routes and generally cause utter confusion in the England ranks by loitering in what would normally be regarded as offside positions. It’s a tactic that has been effected before by other teams, though not as often and not as monotonously as it was by Italy.
The law in question is an ass and it should be changed forthwith, otherwise rugby runs the risk of the events at Twickenham being sadly replicated, even if not for the duration of a match. Why should the offside line disappear just because a team decides not to commit anyone else to the breakdown? Some people may call it an anomaly, I call it plain ridiculous. Thoughts on a postcard to World Rugby.
Conor O’Shea, the Italy head coach, and Brendan Venter, the defence coach who masterminded yesterday’s ruse, have received plenty of support for their unconventional gameplan. It is absolutely true that Italy’s non-rucking tactic was wholly within the laws of the game, but was it within the spirit?
Italian rugby was the victim here. Their Six Nations successes have been all too few since they first played in the competition in 2000, although they have beaten every other country bar England in the intervening period at one stage or another. It would be wonderful if they could one day lift the Six Nations title, but that seems like an increasingly improbable dream. Indeed, they are weaker now than they have been for some time, despite the constant world-class brilliance of Sergio Parisse, their No8 and captain. One player doesn’t make a team, alas.
Italy came to Twickenham in 2013 and prevented England from scoring a try in a narrow 18-11 defeat. They didn’t need to employ some loophole in the offside laws to do that. But O’Shea’s breakdown tactics four years on were a tacit admission that the one and only thing Italy were interested in was a damage-limitation exercise. That is discourteous to the Six Nations competition itself, to the vast majority of the 82,000 spectators who were at Twickenham and to millions more who were watching on television.
In some eyes, England’s cluelessness in the face of Italy’s tactics probably vindicated O’Shea’s approach. Not in my eyes. They were tactics that were disreputable and deplorable in equal measure. Never again. Change the law.