Opinion: English sour grapes masks their ignorance against Italy

Eddie Jones' side struggled to cope with their opposition's tactics

BY Daniel Kelly 13:30 Monday 27 February 2017, 13:30 27 Feb 2017

England captain Dylan Hartley speaks to referee Roman Poite. Picture by Andrew Matthews PA Wire/PA Images

"I am the referee, not the coach. You will probably find the solution with your coach".

Those words from French referee Roman Poite to England's James Haskell showed how the home side struggled with Italy's tactics on Sunday in Twickenham. During an interesting first half, Italy regularly used a tactic of failing to create a ruck, meaning there was no offside line.

Captain Dylan Hartley and Haskell regularly spoke to the referee seeking guidance on the rule, as panic spread among England's forwards unsure with themselves what to do. Haskell even asked the referee; "What do we need to do for it to be a ruck?"

Poite even quoted Rule 15.6 (g) to Hartley and Haskell when they looked bemused at what was going on in front their eyes.

England would run out comfortable winners in the end, beating the Italians 36-15. They also earned a bonus point in the process.

Despite the win, head coach Eddie Jones was not happy with the game, citing the performance of the Italians in demeaning the spectacle.

"It wasn't a game of rugby. We still haven't played a game. We might go out and train now". With gritted teeth, Jones said Italy "were brilliant in their execution". He revealed that the team could have "possibly" reacted better to the Italian tactics.

England are unbeaten under Jones, winning 15 in a row under the Australian. After beating Wales, he vowed to hammer the Italians. Despite winning, he was out-thought and out-coached by Conor O'Shea.

Jones was not the only person to react in a negative way to Italy's tactics. World Cup-winning scrum-half Matt Dawson took to his Twitter account claiming the away side were ruining the game.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, Conor O'Shea defended his players after the game, saying he was proud of their performance.

"It always seems to be 'let's pick on Italy' and we said we've had enough of that so everything we did today was completely legal and I'm incredibly proud of what the players put out there."

"If people want us to come over and roll over and get our tummies tickled, well we're not going to do that."

In November, Australian flanker David Pocock used similar tactics against Ireland, and was deemed as a genius for knowing the complex rules of the game. Similiar tactics have been used by the Chiefs in Super Rugby and Clermont Auvergne in the Top 14.

If England did the same thing to Italy on Sunday afternoon, Jones would have been hailed as a master tactician. He didn't and England were embarrassed. Their captain did not know the basic laws of a ruck, surely hindering any potential Lions captaincy this summer. 

Italy lost the battle in Twickenham but they may win the war. O'Shea is smart enough to deal with the players he has, and his comments post-match will have the team running through walls against France next month.

New Zealand coach Wayne Smith called the tactics "brave". Speaking to Stuff, Smith praised the Italian ingenuity.

"I think Conor has shown some thinking outside the box and they've been courageous enough to have a crack because there are lot of potential flaws, and not every referee will be in favour of it."

O'Shea's tactics may not have been pretty, but they were certainly eye-catching.

Off The Ball


The very best bits of Off The Ball delivered every week