George Ford and Eddie Jones have called on World Rugby to address the law that allowed Italy to flout the offside rule and cause England to endure one of their most frustrating days under the Australian head coach, with the fly-half warning that the tactics will “kill the game quickly”.
Jones cut an irate figure in his post-match press conference, labelling the tactics “not rugby” and joking that he will retire from the game if teams were allowed to get away with such ploys. It was a feeling echoed by his squad, who overcame a below-par start to triumph 36-15 and maintain their run towards a second consecutive Six Nations Grand Slam success.
Italy stemmed England’s attack after head coach Conor O’Shea and defence coach Brendan Venter encouraged their side to stay out of the breakdown, meaning that no ruck or offside line could form, and as a result run around the tackle to prevent the ball being pass to the England backline.
“I hope it will get addressed before the Scotland game because if teams do that it is going to kill the game quickly,” said Ford. “There’s no rugby going to be played.
“I don’t think that’s good for the game that sort of stuff happening. You could see the frustrations from the players, the fans and the coaches. It’s just not what the game should be like. But if stays in we are going to have to adapt to it. It certainly something we’re going to have to learn from.
“It’s going to kill the game quickly. No rugby is going to be played, it is going to be very, very difficult to get any momentum and phases in attack if teams do that. It’s certainly something that we’re going to have to learn from.”
Jones was scathing in his assessment of the tactics deployed by his former understudy, having brought Venter to Saracens 10 years ago before the South African replaced him as head coach, and also criticised referee Romain Poite for becoming “flustered” in his ruling of the match.
After refusing to answer questions surrounding the game because “no rugby has been played”, a response he used no fewer than nine times, Jones called on the World Rugby chairman, Bill Beaumont, to change the rules and prevent similar incidents happening in the future.
“I’ve never seen a referee lose his perspective of the game. That’s the reality of it,” Jones added. “It makes it even harder for our players and that’s why I’m pleased for them.
“At the end of the day [referees] in charge of the shape of the game and I’m sure Bill Beaumont watched that game today and will take some action.
“It’s not up to me. I have enough to worry about. As a couple of people said, I haven’t coached the side well enough today. I’ll leave laws up to others.
“Of course it can [be] easily solved. I could solve it like that,” he added while clicking his fingers together. “Just have a tackle offside line. As soon as you make a tackle there’s an offside line.”
Bath fly-half Ford echoed his coach’s calls for World Rugby to take immediate action, with the fear among the squad that Scotland could decide to employ similar tactics to negate the England attack.
“I don’t think that is good for the game, that sort of stuff happening,” Ford added. “I think you could see out there the frustration from the players, the fans and the coaches. It’s just not what the game should be like. If it stays in we’re going to have to adapt to that.”
But just like his side, Jones met a staunch defence from his opposite number in O’Shea, who insisted that he sent out his side to defend in such a unique and unconventional way because “Italian rugby has to change” and his side are not going to take being disrespected any more, following Jones’s admission that he wanted England to “take Italy to the cleaners”.
“We didn’t come up with this overnight,” said O’Shea. “It is funny. When Wasps score a try to beat Toulouse in the European Cup and when David Pocock intercepts a ball against Ireland in the autumn internationals it is brilliant; when Italy do something it is not allowed.
“We beat South Africa and it is a terrible South Africa side; we do something different, you can’t do that. We have to change in Italy and I am sick and tired of people having a pop and having a go. We came here to win. We kicked to corners, we missed a few kicks at goal, we attacked off scrums and we showed some unbelievable defence so stop having a go. We are going to change.
“Will the law change? Of course it will, but the law was there against Wales and no one looked at how badly we were treated against Wales. That was illegal. Today we were legal and we played to the law. They actually changed midweek. We are not going to roll over and we are going to fight. If you show that sort of commitment start praising it. Just because we took people by surprise what do they want us to do? Be normal? We can’t be normal. We have to be Italy.”