I’m having to watch this one again to get my thoughts on it in order – my initial headline would be –
Italy play within the laws but not the spirit of the game to outsmart England for 40 minutes!
Unlike many I wasn’t expecting Italy to lie down for England, they’ll have been smarting after a battering at the hands of Ireland where they had 63 points scored against them, as always they managed a few, 10 in this case, but by anyone’s standards that’s a beating!
The words ‘Just a Tackle’ were heard from Romain Poite in the first 2 minutes, by way of explanation for the 2 Italians on England’s side of things being fine for him. It’s hard to narrow down the offside law as contained in Law 9 of the World Rugby Laws – but, this extract is an interesting one, although in this case with no rucks being formed the Italians were not deemed to be offside.
A player who remains in an offside position is loitering. A loiterer who prevents the opposing team from playing the ball as they wish is taking part in the game, and is penalised. The referee makes sure that the loiterer does not benefit from being put onside by the opposing team’s action.
Italy were awarded the first opportunity of points, Nathan Hughes being deemed to be off his feet in going for the ball in a ruck. Hughes hasn’t shone for me in an England shirt, the back row is missing not only Billy Vunipola but Chris Robshaw in a big way. Tomaso Allan kicked the ball to the left of the posts, missing what looked like an easy 3 points.
England were then penalised in the scrum and at a lineout giving Italy good possession, they failed to capitalise on the resulting 5m lineout knocking the ball on. Watching the game on 12 minutes it’s amazing to see Sergio Parisee with his arms wide open amongst the England attackers then again a minute later as his scrum half did the same thing. Poite was shouting all along ‘Just a Tackle’ – No ruck, No offside.
When Italy were eventually penalised for being offside, Owen Farrell making his 50th appearance for England made a schoolboy error in missing touch! A second kick at goal was missed by Allan, this time sending the ball to the right of the posts.
The first discussion about ruck, tackles and offside between Dylan Hartley and Poite after 22 minutes came after Danny Care had found the way to deal with the opposition Scrum half being in his way when he went to pass the ball, by simply running through the gap in front of him. The possession, with the help of a penalty kicked to touch this time, led to the first points of the game as England rolled over the line allowing Dan Cole to touch down. Farrell missed the conversion.
Romain Poite again explains the laws regarding rucks feeling the need to deliver the line of the weekend – ‘I’m the referee not a coach’ – what I don’t understand is why England took so long to work out how to deal with this no ruck tactic from Italy, especially when Danny Care had already made the most of the Italian players being in the wrong position to do anything other than disrupt play.
Italy put points on the board with a drop goal from Tomaso Allan after a concerted attack, it was the least they deserved for their efforts. A stranger to the game would not have imagined the men in white to be the team seeking a 17th win in a row!
Eduardo Gori went down as if he’d been shot after running into Owen Farrell’s shoulder as he kicked the ball upfield. George Ford returned the ball but hit it past the dead ball line giving Italy good field position again.
For a 3rd time we could hear England in the shape of James Haskell and Dylan Hartley asking about the ruck law (using rule) he again suggested that they’d need to talk to their coach at half time to work it all out. It really is beyond belief that these highly paid international players couldn’t work out for themselves what they needed to do to counter Italy’s tactics.
Nathan Hughes gave way his 3rd penalty of the half with moments of the half remaining, the kick hit the posts but Venditti was paying attention and he pounced on the ball to go over and score a try while the England defence stood and watched him pretty much, the conversion saw the teams go in at half time with the score on England 5 Italy 10!
I imagine the England dressing room will have been an interesting place during half time, listening to the half time pundits Italy were well within their rights to do what they were doing. They came to restrict a team they were going to struggle to beat and they certainly did that, going in ahead was not what most of those in the ground expected from Italy.
England needed a bonus point win from this game, they were looking ahead to what should be one of the most competitive Calcutta Cup games for years and a final weekend match against Dublin in Ireland, every point would matter.
Elliot Daly showed his kicking skills early in the second half with a pinpoint perfect kick to touch in open play. A penalty awarded after the play had progressed to a scrum saw Danny Care do what he does best in taking a tap penalty to catch the Italian defenders unawares, Owen Farrell and Daly were with him but their intervention wasn’t needed, England had the try! No conversion though as Farrell seemed to have left his kicking boots at home.
England won a penalty from the kick off as Joe Launchbury turned his back on the approaching Italians forcing them to engage. England were running at a different level as they looked to counter Italy, they made good ground from the lineout with a couple of clever offloads firstly Maro Itoje to Haskell who broke through then from Cortney Lawes to Ford who popped a pass to Care, a quick ball to Ben T’eo who passed out to Elliot Daly saw the Wasps flyer score in the corner, Farrell at last kicked the conversion and England started to pull away.
Joe Launchbury, a big man, made 30 metres as he took the ball from the kick off, he was a sight to behold storming up the field. Nathan Hughes had a go at the ‘tackle only’ so I can stand in your way thing turning the tables on Italy.
England’s ‘finisher’ were on the pitch, Danny Care went off with 51 minutes on the clock, not a man I’d take off with half an hour to go for the slower Ben Youngs; Jamie George, Jack Nowell and a very welcome Mako Vunipola had entered the fray too. Nowell looked to have scored but it was seen that Hughes was offside when he bumped off him on his way to the line.
Exeter Cheifs man Michele Campagnaro received the ball and brushed past George Ford before stepping past Mike Brown to score a great try, the skinniness of the pitch helped him slide across, but it was a cracker! The kick missed but Italy were back within 2 points.
Owen Farrell missed the chance to extend the lead further after a penalty was awarded for a early tackle on Mike Brown. Elliot Daly went close only to see the ball kicked out , we then had some confusion as initially a scrum was awarded then a lineout, England through 13 men into the maul but Italy held them out. Italy were then stretched when the ball went out to Jack Nowell who scored the bonus point try for England. Farrell missed the conversion (again)
Kyle Sinckler had come on as a replacement and we had the wonder of seeing a prop storm up the pitch before being caught by Mclean, the ball made its way out to Ben T’eo after a great pass from Mike Brown, who scored on his first start for England, another difficult conversion, this time it sailed though the posts. It can’t be long before Sinckler starts for England, he’s a dynamic young prop.
Italy were tiring as England seemed to have found 6th gear, Jack Nowell whirled his way round several defenders to score, Farrell’s conversion took the final score to England 36 Itlay 15 – a scoreline that flatters England and won’t tell the tale of clever tacticians when it’s looked back on.
Most of the reporting post match has been about Eddie Jones likening Italy’s tactics to bowling underarm in cricket. Italy had every right to do what they did, but it didn’t make for a good spectacle for 40 minutes at least, I’d hate to see it on a regular basis. And as fro Eddie? I think he’s deflecting attention from his players again.