'Fair play to Italy' says Haskell

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 20:02

REACTION: England flank James Haskell admitted his side had been out-thought by Italy as the debate over the Azzurri's unorthodox approach to the breakdown continued on Monday.

Eddie Jones, the England coach, was seething as a struggling Italy, defying all pre-match predictions, led the Grand Slam champions 5-10 at half-time in Sunday's Six Nations international at Twickenham after repeatedly refusing to form rucks.

With this game plan they could legitimately stray offside - a move England's 2003 World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward called "innovative and inspired".

England eventually regained their composure to win 36-15 on Sunday as they extended their winning steak to 17 successive Tests.

But an angry Jones called for the rulebook to be revised and accused referee Romain Poite of looking "flustered", with the Australian adding: "I've never seen a referee lose his perspective of the game."

But the man who pioneered the tactic accused Jones of being "rude" while World Rugby said French referee Poite and his colleagues had "officiated law correctly".

Haskell was involved in a comical incident when, having asked Poite "what the exact rule is", he received the reply: "I can't say, I'm the referee, I'm not a coach".

"Fair play to Italy, it was clever on their part and they are very well coached," said Haskell.

"We will go away and tactically talk through a lot of things and work on how we can react a lot quicker but we got the win and so let's not get too down on ourselves."

A World Rugby spokesperson indicated to AFP that no immediate rule changes were planned, saying: "There is a formal process for unions to request law clarifications, if they wish to do so."

Engand's Rugby Football Union said they did not plan to utilise that procedure, with a spokesperson explaining: "This type of issue is discussed 'in the round' with World Rugby, through the normal structures and meetings.

"World Rugby regularly issue clarifications on various laws so could decide to do this anyway due to the interest generated by yesterday's [Sunday] match."

As part of the standard post 2015 World Cup review into the laws of the game, officials were already looking into the tackle and ruck area prior to Sunday's game.

England flyhalf George Ford warned it would "kill the game quickly" if other sides followed Italy's example as "there's no rugby going to be played".

Despite England's outrage, this was not the first time the tactic had been deployed with New Zealand's Chiefs having done something similar in Super Rugby and Australia's David Pocock nearly creating a try against Ireland last year with the ploy.

Ben Ryan, who as England Sevens coach pioneered the 'no-ruck' ploy in the abbreviated form of the game back in 2012, said he'd been stunned by Jones's fury. 

"I am flabbergasted with Eddie Jones's reaction to it. It is called coaching, Eddie," Ryan, who guided Fiji to Olympic Sevens gold in Rio last year, told The Times.

"He is being quite rude to people, fellow coaches who outmanoeuvred him. Good on Italy. We haven't seen England doing anything different at all."

He added: "It is so easy [to counter]. You either make sure there is an Italian in the breakdown, so it has to be called a ruck, or you run straight through the middle, where there is a hole. Then you have the advantage against a retreating defence."

England did this in a second half where they scored five tries to overcome what Woodward, in his Daily Mail column, said was an "entirely legitimate" tactic.

Ireland coach O'Shea, whose team were thrashed 10-63 by Ireland in their previous match, was adamant the Azzurri had "played to the law". 

"We are not going to roll over and we are going fight," he insisted. "Just because we took people by surprise, what do they want us to do?"

Agence France-Presse

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