England rugby coach Eddie Jones has spoken out against the tactics used by opponents Italy in Sunday’s international match. He said, variously, that “wasn’t rugby”, that “fans were cheated” and that they “should get their money back.”
At best this is sour-graped pedantry. Yes, England were outplayed in the first half and went in for the break 10-5 down. But they bossed the second period and ran out 36-15 victors – moving to the top of the 6 Nations’ table as a result. At worse, if you will excuse my being blunt, this is simply cobblers.
England are on a great run; unbeaten in a year and 16 matches. Despite many reservations – including mine – about Jones’s tactics, the team has been transformed in fitness, determination and tactical nous.
So when Italy determinedly and pre-meditatedly tried to frustrate the men in white by refusing to form a ruck it was almost the equivalent, as commentators have been quick to point out, of bowling underarm in a cricket test match.
Tactically, it clearly threw a spanner in England’s works. They seemed slow to comprehend what coach Connor O’Shea had put into play and then pondered what to do about it – prompting the best line of the tournament to date from match official Romaine Poite: “I am the referee not your coach.”
A few points here, aside from the overbearing fact of an England win: First, the referee is in charge of the game. If he didn’t see a problem, then the players have to just get on and deal with it. Second, England are one of the leading Rugby nations. No offence but Italy aren’t (yet). If this David needed a no-ruck strategy as their slingshot to challenge Goliath, then that is surely fair enough.
Third, it’s exciting. Although there are modifications to the rules all the time (it seems), there is little startling difference from one game to another. The Italians should be applauded for daring to be innovative. Certainly most of my friends and workmates who follow the sport agree.
And fourth, it is actually good for England to be challenged in this way. To have to recognise and then work out how to counter such a strategy (not so very difficult – in theory anyway – you can contrive to pull people in in order to form a ruck) –it is a great learning exercise for a team that is currently meeting just about every challenge (New Zealand excepted, but I would hope that will come).
The young men I coach came up with their own bit of innovation on Sunday too: Taking a restart, the ball was kicked along ground, not up in the air. Totally flummoxed the opposition and we duly scored a valuable try. Not the orthodox way of doing things, but no objection from the referee.
I was pleased at this innovation and my opposite number took note of it for probable reproduction in his own training sessions.
That our national coach doesn’t have such a similarly positive outlook is a shame.
This article also appears in The Huffington Post