Eddie Jones launched a scathing attack on Italy’s tactics following England’s 36-15 Six Nations victory and claimed that if that’s how rugby will be played from this day forward, he will retire.
The England head coach was left seething by Italy’s tactic of not committing to the ruck, meaning they could flour the offside rule and leaving defenders free to run around the breakdown without fear of being penalised.
The move sparked huge anger from the Twickenham crowd, and an equally critical assessment came from Jones immediately after the victory.
“If that’s rugby then I’m going to retire, because that’s not rugby,” Jones said in his post-match press conference. “Once you lose the ruck, you don’t have a game anymore.
“There was no rugby, so I’m not going to answer any questions about rugby.
“Quote me on that, I don’t think it’s smart rugby.”
England were left in a state of confusion for the best part of an hour after Italy’s defensive coach, Brendan Venter, deployed a tactical stroke of genius to threaten a first Italian victory in the history of these two nations.
Italian scrum-half Eduordo Gori led what proved to be a concerted attempt to disrupt English possession by refusing to commit to the breakdown. It was a tactic that meant the ruck, or supposed ruck, was never formed, and thus no offside line being formed.
This left the Italian defence free to run around the breakdown and stand among the England players, waiting for the ball to come out, and the home players scratching their heads while the supporters screamed in anger towards referee Roman Poite. It was a tactic, evidently masterminded by Italy head coach Conor O’Shea and defence coach Brendan Venter, that had the press box rummaging for the World Rugby rule book, and immediately vindicated the referee’s decision to allow the Italian rush defence.
World Rugby Law 16.1b, the rule regarding the formation of the ruck, states: “Players are on their feet. At least one player must be in physical contact with an opponent. The ball must be on the ground. If the ball is off the ground for any reason, the ruck is not formed.”
It adds: “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.”
Essentially, by committing just the tackler, there was no ruck formed and play could continue, which meant the Italians were free to disrupt the England possession and stand in what would otherwise be deemed an offside position.
The biggest problem for those wearing white was that it took 36 minutes for England to try and do something about it, Danny Care taking the ball from the base and charging straight through the middle of it. Judging by Jones’ post-match anger, the message must have been not so much communicated to the squad at half-time than screamed, given England’s abject first-half showing that saw them trailing 10-5 to the Six Nations’s bottom side.
With Jones’ words ringing in their ears, from the very first ruck of the second half both Nathan Hughes and Joe Launchbury charged straight through to put Italy onto the back-foot for the first time in the match and pave the way for one of the most bizarre wins in English rugby history.