England escape passionate Italians
SIX NATIONS REPORT: A brace of tries by Jack Nowell hands England a 36-15 win against a resilient Italian side at Twickenham on Sunday.
"Just a tackle."
This is how this Six nations match will be forever known. The referee’s statement of fact became a clarion call for the clever, well-prepared Italians to sow confusion in the English ranks, so rattling them that Italy, expected to be whipping boys, led 10-5 at half time.
The Twickenham crowd, on the freezing afternoon, got hot under the collar and gave voice to their anger in rugby rage. Experienced players - Dylan Hartley (82nd cap), James Haskell (73rd cap) and Owen Farrell (50th cap) - several times, in anger or confusion, demanded explanations of the calm referee and asked him how they could counter the Italians' cunning. The referee explained that he was the referee, not their coach.
The law in question was what constituted a ruck, and we shall quote the law which is quite clear.
Law 16 Definitions
A ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground. Open play has ended.
If no Italian players on their feet made contact with England players on their feet in this way, there is no ruck. There is "just a tackle", and a tackle does not create offside lines.
What the Italians did was legal. They were clever. It was not clever to vilify them.
In the end, England ran out 36-15 winners, which looks comfortable but 19 of those points were scored in 10 minutes at the end of the match. Till then the score was a meagre 17-15.
The match will become a part of rugby history.
In their previous Six Nations match Italy had lost 63-10 to Wales, and it was expected that this would be an even greater hammering. It was not a hammering, because the Italians were clever and resolute.
England were rattled in that first half and they conceded nine penalties to the three of Italy. (Unfortunately for Italy, Tommaso Allan missed two kicks at goal.) George Ford kicked out on the full outside his 22 and Farrell kicked a penalty dead. But England did score first.
A penalty against Sergio Parisse gave them a five-metre line-out. They made a maul and shoved it over the Italian line for a try credited to Dan Cole. 5-0 after 24 minutes. 24 minutes!
Three times in the first half England were penalised at scrums. From one, when Italy were in England's 22, Parisse tapped and ran, fullback Edoardo Padovani went on a darting run and then Allan dropped a goal. 5-3 after 32 minutes.
Lively Danny Care broke and chipped but, running back, Padovani caught the ball coming over his shoulder and claimed a mark.
England changed tactics to pick-"n-go to counter the ruck stand-off but Haskell knocked on and Italy broke out. Lock Dries van Schalkwyk galloped some 20 metres downfield and Italy were on the attack. England were penalised and Allan. kicked at goal. He had missed two [penalty kicks at goal and he missed this one as well, but it was a case of felix culpa - a happy fault, for the ball rebounded off the upright into the field of play where, following up, Giovanbattista Venditti gather sand scored near the posts. Then it was half-time and Italy were leading 10-5.
England played it differently in the second half, having worked out a counter to "just a tackle" during the 15-minute break. From the start of the half they used their forwards to drive ahead - pick-'n-go and mauls. They also took on the Italian scrum and when Italy were penalised at the first scrum of the second half, Care tapped and raced over in the corner. 10-10 after 44 minutes.
From the kick-off, England mauled and Italy were penalised but Farrell missed the kick at goal.
Then Haskell ran strongly, and Elliot Daly went sweeping over for a try. 17-10 after 47 minutes.
From the kick-off Joe Launchbury burst through tackles on a powerful run and then Mike Brown started a counterattack. It looked that England were about to rip Italy apart but no. Italy went on a pick-'n-go of their own and then got the ball to Michele Campagnaro who shoved Ford out of the way, got away from Jamie George and beat Brown hands down to score. Padovani missed the conversation but the score was 17-15 with 19 minutes to play.
England were back on the attack and substitute scrumhalf Ben Youngs grubbered down the left for the Italian line. Daly was diving at the ball but Carlo Canna flykicked it into touch for a five-metre line-out. England bashed right at the line and then went wide right where Jack Nowell had an easy run-in for the try. 22-15 with 10 minutes to play.
Now, what was supposed to have happened from the first minute, started happening in the 71st minute.
England came running back and substitute prop, a burly man, Kyle Sinckler pounded 20 metres down the field. He was felled and a pass to the right gave Ben Te'o a try on the right in a rare touch of the ball.
Maro Itoje charged down Giorgio Bronzini's kick from behind his forwards and England attacked on the right for a second try by Nowell, this time near the posts. 36-15 after 79 minutes, which was the final score.
Man of the Match: There were those who played well - such as Joe Launchbury, Danny Care and Maro Itoje for England and Edoardo Padovani and Sergio Parisse for Italy, but the men who generated most interest in what could have been a one-sided affair were referee Romain Poite and the player who best exploited the "just a tackle" situation, Edoardo Gori, the lively scrumhalf who is our Man of the Match.
Moment of the Match: The first, surprising "Just a tackle" call.
Villain of the Match: Nobody unless you suggest that the English complaints about "Just a tackle" were villainous.
Tries: Cole, Care, Daly, Nowell 2, Te’o
Cons: Farrell 3
Tries: Venditti, Campagnaro
Drop Goal: Allan
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jonny May, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Jack Nowell
Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 George Biagi, 20 Maxime Mata Mbanda’, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)