Brian Smith's Analysis: Inspired Italian Improvisation - Green and Gold Rugby

Brian Smith’s Analysis: Inspired Italian Improvisation

Brian Smith’s Analysis: Inspired Italian Improvisation

Italy’s Improvisation

England played Italy on Sunday at Twickenham and if you’d only seen the score you’d have thought it was business as usual with England winning 36 v 15.

However, if you know Italy’s coaching team (Conor O’Shea, Mike Catt and Brendan Venter), you’d know they were not going to come to Twickenham without a plan -particularly as their Italian team had shipped 60 points at home against Ireland a week earlier.

For those of you who missed the game these clips will give you a quick look at the tactics employed by Italy as they fought to regain some respect in the 6 Nations Championship.


The No Ruck Defence

Before we look at the “No Ruck Defence” we need to define a “Ruck”.

The laws of the game say this: “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.”

So with Italy not contesting the tackle with a second defender the tackle at no time became a ruck, hence there is no offside line. This is something you would have seen in the World Rugby Sevens Series. So it’s not a completely new tactic, but it’s new enough.

What Italy did in this test match was well within the laws of the game and arguably very innovative. It’s no different from the introduction of the “Blitz Defence”, the “Choke Tackle” or the “Back Off” tactics to defend lineout mauls. To my mind, Italy’s defence coach (Venter) had no alternative and had to try something different after the beating Italy had taken from Ireland a week earlier.

The referee made it clear that he had empathy for England, but he would referee the laws of the game as these clips show.

Attacking v the No Ruck Defence

It has to be said that despite the frustrations aired by the English players on the pitch and their coach after the game, in many ways the “No Ruck” challenge brought out the best in this England team. They had to improvise, the coaches had to think on their feet and the players had to adapt. They certainly did this and on the run in front of 80,000 fans provided a tidy plan on how to break down the “No Ruck Defence”.

Here’s what they did:

More Mauls

If the defence is trying to scramble your phase play attack it makes sense to drive your lineout possession to win penalties or score tries. This is a strength of the English game and they executed very well. Two of their tries came from this tactic.




England kept the ball in at scrum time to squeeze penalties and create point scoring opportunities. Again if the defence want to scramble your planned attack scrumming for penalties is a smart option. In this clip the king of improvisation, Danny Care, takes a quick tap off the back of a penalty winning scrum effort from the English pack.


Pick & Go and Offloads

Just after half time England started to pick & go and play a high tempo offload game. Clearly their coaches spoke to the troops during the break to give them more strategies to challenge the No Ruck Defence. If the defence are not contesting the tackle area there is clearly an opportunity for the ball carrier or the designated cleaner to pick & go and offload playing through the middle. If the defence wants to stifle your phase play have less rucks by offloading. These two clips show just how effective these tactics can be against any defence:


Kick to get Kick Returns

Playing against Italy you can expect them to kick back plenty of their own kick return possession. So by kicking long, England were able to force Italy to kick the ball back, providing more transition play for England.

More transition attack (also known as broken play) means Italy have to defend in a less structured manner and that means they’re more likely to defend in the conventional way (by contesting rucks). This clip speaks for itself:


The Last Word

While England gave a master class in improvisation they were not the only team to unleash some exciting attack. This exceptional individual effort from Italian centre Michele Campagnaro was the highlight of Italy’s attack. He targeted George Ford with a burst of power then ran around Mike Brown to score a brilliant solo try….enjoy:

  • Who?

    Good analysis Brian. It’s interesting to see the English coach of the Fijian gold medal winning 7’s team has come out and blasted Eddie Jones, pointing out he’s been using the no-ruck tactic for 5 years (since 2012). And I know the Reds used it against the Tahs in 2013. And the Chiefs, and Toulouse, and the Wallabies, and…
    Wayne Smith’s point is important. He believes (and I’ve long believed) it’s a great tactic to use as an ambush, but not one to live on for a whole game. Because it creates opportunities straight up the middle. I can’t imagine an All Blacks team (especially not one with players like Brodie Retallick and Kieran Read in it) or a Wallabies team not recognizing the opportunity for constant, lightning fast ball, playing directly up the middle. After all, half the point of engaging at the ruck is to slow possession so your defensive line can realign! No ruck, no realignment time.
    For mine, the whole event is an indictment on the English team’s lack of on field leadership and adaptability. Hartley and Haskell tried to figure it out, but they clearly weren’t up to speed. This is unusual for an Eddie Jones team – I can’t imagine the Brumbies under his tenure not figuring it out and fixing it rapidly.
    I’m actually a bit disappointed that the refs have shown sympathy for England. Poite’s indicated he expects the laws to be changed (and, reading his statements, it sounds like he’d be happy if they were). Owens has indicated similar (along with disbelief that the English refs didn’t educate the English team, as most national teams get their refs in for coaching, as he’s consulted with the Welsh team at camps a few times this year). For mine, the law’s the law, and it’s not up to the referee to show whether or not he likes it. It’s just his job to run the laws of the game. And in that respect, Poite did well.
    I almost used the tactic with my U12’s last year, when we played a team which flooded every breakdown. As England were doing – flooding the breakdown, regardless of how many Italians happened to be there (even when that number was zero!). But the ref wouldn’t have understood what was going on. He was their coach, and in spite of constant opportunities to pilfer, we didn’t receive any penalties for not releasing (even if our jackal had a good 3 digs before their slow forwards arrived), or not retaining their feet (they were coached that the first player put their hands on the ground and bridged). So it was too much to expect he’d understand that vagary of the law. Which is ok (it was only juniors!). So we just resorted to the AB’s 2014/5 tactic of not contesting and filling out the defensive line (but staying properly onside – something the ABs don’t have to do when they didn’t contest). But the fact I considered it (I had it flagged to me by the trainer at a Foundation Course in 2013, where it was mentioned in reference to that Reds/Tahs game) shows that the tactic isn’t new, and isn’t something that international players should find as a surprise.
    Well done to O’Shea, Catt and Venter – they took what was supposed to be a boring, one-sided flogging and made it into a close contest and a talking point, showing that there’s more than one way to play Rugby. And well done to the Italian players for showing they can implement a plan – surely it means that their coaches will have more confidence in them, and they should also take confidence out of it, because they genuinely shook an English team that’s clearly the second best team in the world (on results, if not form).

    • adastra32

      Aaaah, you’ll be a NZer then. You overstate the case considerably about England being “shook”. Caught off-guard yes, but never in any danger (even when behind).

      • Who?

        A Kiwi?! Wash your mouth out! :-P No, definitely not Kiwi. Irish-Aussie.
        England were certainly rattled. They had no reason to lose that game, and if they’d lost it, it would’ve been them losing it as much as Italy winning it. England losing through poor composure against clever tactics.
        I should clarify, England weren’t in danger, except of losing their composure.

    • Pedro

      Yeah, good post. For me the main difference was how clearly the tactic was being refereed. I think many teams would love to try this but the fear of penalties and yellows puts them off. It’s a bit like when the tackler gets up and attacks the ball from the “wrong” side of the ruck, it can be a gamble. That’s why most teams just fan out as you said and prob creep “offside”, limiting that risk.

      • Who?

        Except, of course, if they’ve not committed to the breakdown, they’re not offside.
        But you’re right, it’s all about referees understanding what’s going on, and even at the top level, there’s no guarantee of that. Hence why Link was counselled to consult the refs to see if his version of no ruck would be ruled as he expected (he didn’t, but it was), and why O’Shea checked with Poite.
        I wonder how many teams will pull this tactic this weekend in clubland round the world? The refs have no excuse for not knowing about it!!! Though I did once have a junior team referee call, “Crouch – Touch – Pause – Engage” two years after they changed to “Crouch – Bind – Set.” So I guess anything’s possible!
        I’ve got no problem with pop passes off the deck – in fact, I think they should be encouraged. Even on slow ball, it’s faster than forcing someone to stop and bend down to pick up the ball. And to deny the right to ‘play’ the ball however the tackler wants would be to change the game arguably more than by creating an offside line at a tackle (which I oppose).

        • Pedro

          Yeah I’m not advocating change, just if it was to happen what it might look like.

          Surely though pop passes (after a decent delay) are using your hands off you feet though?

        • Who?

          If they haven’t already released/placed, it’s fine. The laws say you’re required to play the ball immediately, but in practice that’s not refereed unless there’s pressure on the ball carrier (i.e. someone’s trying to pilfer). So if they’re going to penalize slow pop passes, I’d want to see them do similar for slow placements.
          What will be interesting will be to see if the Italian tactic makes defenders rethink they way they contest on breaks downfield. Will they still create a ruck to slow the ball (i.e. try to jackal and impede access), or will they stand off and try to play the scrumhalf? Or block a pop pass that’s got to travel more than a metre sideways? The actions of the first arriving defender after the tackle (and the location of further defenders relative to attacking support runners) will be interesting. If you’ve got one defender in front of the half, a tackler regaining his feet, and an attacking runner with a defender ready to tackle immediately, it’s arguably better to allow the half to clear the ball to that support runner without a ruck, allowing the tracking defender to immediately tackle the support runner from an onside position. And it’s that sort of requirement for complex decision making and an immediate summation of the situation that makes Rugby great. It’s multidimensional – it makes chess-boxing look horribly simple!

        • mikado

          The laws require the tackled player to “place” or “roll” the ball. They don’t allow a pop pass off the ground.

        • Who?

          15.5 (c) allows placing, 15.5 (d) allows rolling. But 15.5 (b) allows passing.

        • mikado

          Thanks for the correction Who

    • Brian Smith

      It’s always good to have healthy debates about the game and the ways coaches are looking to push the envelope. For Italy to have put all their eggs in this basket they would have no doubt sought clarification from Alain Roland (World Rugby Referee Boss) and the test match ref (Romain Poite) during the week in the lead up to the test. As many have pointed out there will be more teams looking to use these tactics. However, you need to be careful as a coach to set such a negative game plan…the message you’re giving your team is “we need smoke and mirrors to win”. Not the sort of message or tactics a genuine contender would use but for teams looking to limit the damage…not a bad ploy.

  • Pedro

    Great analysis. As for rule changes (if they must), they should make the ball the offside line in this instance. Also crack down on pop passes from the tackled player. They’re ok if it’s done in the placing window, but it’s often after slow ball.

  • Pearcewreck

    Clear fact of the matter is, Poite had a shocker.
    2nd clip clearly shows Italy 10 make contact with an England player, both on their feet. So under Law 16.1 a ruck is formed.
    3rd clip shows Italy 9 doing the exact same thing.
    Both right in front of Poite.

    This happened at least 4 other times during the match.
    But Poite was only interested in playing his part in Italy’s plan.
    He was blind to actually policing other laws around the ruck like Law 16.2.
    He only seemed to be interested in being part of Italy’s tactics.

    Memo to coaches, if you are being refereed by Poite in future, meet him before the game and tell him you want to employ some clever/sneaky/dubious tactics. He will play his role like a puppet.

    • Andrew Luscombe

      Previously some refs have regarded this type of touching as enough to form a ruck. This ref didn’t, and that was what most of the English player’s questions were about. Some people seem to think the players didn’t know the rules, but it was the interpretation.

      The definition of ruck also mentions “closing around” not just touching. Different people seem to have different understanding of closing around and/or the role of the definition in the rules. Poiter’s seems reasonable to me, as does other refs with more focus on mere touching.

      Some clarification appears to be required.

      • mikado

        Andrew, that’s correct that it was interpretation of whether or not a ruck had occurred that was a major source of the problem for England. That said, they should have figured out quickly how Poite was refereeing it and dealt with it.

    • Who?

      As I mentioned last time, entering a ruck requires binding (16.2, which you then want to use for penalizing the Italians for not binding)… No binding, no ruck formed. And other times you pointed it out, we had English players sealing off (preventing the formation of a ruck, and actually able to be penalized for not supporting their own weight/falling on a tackled player).
      Poite wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t outside the usual standards.
      And reality is that the law is the law, it’s Rugby, it’s not dubious. Clever, definitely, sneaky, I prefer cunning, but perfectly legal, and Rugby is a game for the head as much as the body. Perhaps it’s time to read some articles from people not steaming about it from the English perspective? Maybe look at Ben Ryan, the English coach of the Fijian 7’s team, who’s very angry with Eddie Jones (Ben’s been using the no-ruck tactic since 2012). Look at Wayne Smith, who doesn’t believe it’s wrong or that any law changes are needed. I read an Australian article this morning contending that it’s entirely in the spirit of William Webb Ellis, to step outside the accepted norms (whilst still inside the written laws) to find a new way to play the game.
      And now the defence coach who sprung the trap is being poached by SA!

      • mikado

        16.2 doesn’t define how a ruck is formed, it defines how to join the ruck once it is formed, I think.
        You’re right about attacking players sealing off the ball but that now happens in every game.

        • Andy Skelton

          I agree, 16.2b (need to bind when joining a ruck) only seems to apply after a ruck is formed. 16.1b (forming a ruck) doesn’t say anything about binding, just physical contact.

          Compare the wording of 16.2 a,b and d. Its clearly differentiated that b) applies only to joining an already formed ruck and a) and d) apply to forming, joining and during. If b) applied to joining a ruck then it would have the same wording as a) and d).

          Having said all that 16.2a doesn’t seem to apply to anyone, ever. Right up their with 20.6d (putting the ball in straight at a scrum) in terms of ignored laws.

          Laws below for reference.

          16.1 Forming a ruck
          (b) How can a ruck form. 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.

          16.2 Joining a ruck
          (a) All players forming, joining or taking part in a ruck must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips.
          (b) A player joining a ruck must bind on a team-mate or an opponent, using the whole arm.
          (c) Placing a hand on another player in the ruck does not constitute binding.
          (d) All players forming, joining or taking part in a ruck must be on their feet.

        • Who?

          You’re correct that it doesn’t define how a ruck is formed, but that doesn’t mean the principle of the creation of a ruck isn’t that there’s a requirement for a contest. Haskell clearly asked, “If I bind on the guy and drag him in, that creates a ruck?” Hartley answered, “No,” but in practice that generally does form a ruck (in the way referees operate).
          You can’t have a ruck without players in contact around the ball, but if you don’t require a bind to create the ruck, you can create empty rucks – rucks with no one ever entering them. That doesn’t make sense. So ‘in contact’ is generally understood to mean that you’re contesting, which also means a bind.
          And as Andy Skelton’s mentioned below, refs only have so much attention and focus, which sees 16.2 (a) regularly ignored.
          One key point is that at least Poite was clearly calling what each breakdown was. ‘Tackle only’, ‘Ruck’, etc. It’s very helpful.

      • Pearcewreck

        Oh please, open your eyes.
        They made physical contact as is clearly seen.
        They then released, so should have penLised each time for incorrect bind, Law 16.2. But Poite was blind to it.
        If a ref is going to apply a technical ruling, he should be inconsistent.
        The points you make about England players sealing off etc support my argument.
        Poite only wanted to apply one technical application of the law, but no others.
        BTW, you sre fesding 16.2 incorrectly. It is designed to prevent what the Italians were doing. As soon as they make physical contact they have entered the ruck, 16.1.
        16.2 prevents “seagulling” off the side of the ruck, which is what each Italian did briefly.

        • Who?

          Open my eyes? Really? They didn’t ever enter the ruck – players entering a ruck are required to bind, they didn’t bind, they didn’t step through the gate. You can’t say they released, because they didn’t ever bind. Releasing requires binding.
          English players sealing off doesn’t require the formation of a ruck – they’re clearly in contravention of 16.2 (a), as referenced below by Mikado. If you go straight off your feet, you prevent the formation of a ruck (you prevent the contest, in the words of Joubert from around 2010, when he gave a lot of penalties for that – and there was exactly that wording given (not by Joubert) when Beale kicked that penalty in Bloemfontein to win us our last Test on the Veldt), and regardless of whether or not a ruck is formed it’s grounds for a penalty. However, the referee can choose not to award it if he feels that the infringement was immaterial to the play. Which it was, because Italy chose not to make it material, by not attempting to contest. My point doesn’t in any way support your argument.
          I agree that 16.2’s requirement to bind to a ruck is meant to prevent seagulling off a ruck. However, I disagree – and will always disagree – that placing a hand on someone creates a ruck. If it does, then the lack of bind from every defender who ever stands at pillar (and puts their hand on a player in the ruck, as they all do) should be a penalty at every ruck!

        • Pearcewreck

          You are so wrong it is annoying now. You must be a troll, or stupid, or both.
          Where in 16.1 does it mention bind.
          It doesn’t.
          It only says physical contact.
          Each time mentioned above Italy made physical contact. Thus a ruck was formed, thus Italy conceded two penalties each time.
          1. Incorrect bind, and then
          2. Defenders offside at the ruck.
          But Poite chose to ignore it as it didn’t suit Italy’s tactics, which he clearly bought into.

          Bringing sealing off into it is a red herring because you know you are losing the argument.
          It was never about that.

          Your point about 16.2 is completely hypocritical. You are happy for Poite to apply a technical application of the rules regarding 16.1, but say that you don’t think 16.2 should be applied literally.
          Poite, at the request of Italy, decided to employ a technical application of 16.1, but completely ignored 16.2.
          Wrong, wrong, wrong.

        • Who?

          So I’m a stupid troll. Nice. But I’m not the one – and the only one at that – advancing a conspiracy theory involving an Irish Coach, an Italian Team and a French Ref to take down England. Maybe the Pope’s involved, too? They’re all nominally Catholic countries! Or maybe not, given Venter’s a South African, and they don’t have strong Catholic traditions…

          16.1 doesn’t say anything about binding, but you have to take into consideration the history of the contest. The ruck originated as a ‘loose scrum’ over the ball. Originally, the ‘ruck’ was a gathering of forwards trying to ruck the ball (and usually the tackled player) back, holding ground against opposing forwards. The objective was moving the ball, and so binding against opposition players wasn’t a priority. Today the objective is to clear the space over the ball so that the halfback and clear the ball (the halfback needing to be unbound and able to access the ball from behind the last feet), we rarely see feet in the ruck (thanks to the changes in the early 00’s). So it’s now critical to bind, in order to be able to lawfully contest the space and possession (where previously merely being ‘in contact’ presented the contest). And the requirement to bind when joining a ruck was only really clarified post 2009, after Bakkies’ work in the 09 Lions series.

          So offside lines have long adapted, as the game developed. Remember, League and AFL also come from Rugby. In AFL, regardless of a tackle, there’s no offside line. In league, there’s a singular offside line. We have two. So the offside line is an addition to the game, not a requirement of the game. The game existed before the ruck offside line did. The reality is that the option to use the tactics Italy used has existed for years, and it’s been used – in patches – for years. Just not as comprehensively. To claim it’s against the spirit of rugby, is cheating, or requires an international conspiracy is wilfully ignorant of history and tradition.

          Your point about 16.2 (b) ignores the fact that the players didn’t enter a ruck when they put the hand on the English heads. If it created the ruck (as you advocate), then they can’t be penalized for not binding correctly when entering the ruck, as they didn’t enter the ruck, they created it. The point about them being offside at a ruck is dependent purely on your view as to whether a ruck was formed.

          My point about 16.2 (a) is far from hypocritical. Your issue with one specific breakdown was that an Italian player touched an English player’s head, but the English player in question entered the breakdown in direct violation of 16.2 (a) (which includes forming a ruck, not just entering it), making it the first offence.

          Here’s Wayne Smith’s position.

          So, basically, he wanted to do the same thing, and was denied by a referee who wouldn’t enforce the law. At all. Because he was allowing Cheetahs flying wedges (also banned, much earlier in the law book), and in some way wouldn’t allow the Chiefs to use the tactic of not engaging. It’s important to note it’s not clear how he ‘wouldn’t play ball’ – whether he fundamentally disagreed with the tactic (something he’s not entitled to do – you have to enforce the laws to your best understanding, not change them), or whether it was something as simple as refusing to call when a ruck was formed (if you don’t have that call, it’s a great risk to be in a potentially offside position).

          If you believe that Poite acted at Italy’s request, then you’re clearly set in your position. If I were in O’Shea’s shoes, even without knowing what Smith had asked Kaplan, I wouldn’t have gone in and asked for the execution of a tactic. I’d have gone in and asked questions about interpretations of the law first, to see if the referee’s perspective could be used with the tactic. No point in raising a tactic first – that raises arguments. I’d have asked, “How do you create a ruck?” “Will you be calling when it’s only a tackle in the game on the weekend?” “What’s the offside law at a tackle only?” And then, finally, “If it’s only a tackle, there’s no offside line, is there anywhere you believe we cannot go, any offside area?” Those are leading questions, but they don’t ask for a referee’s cooperation, only his interpretation on points of law.

          Lastly, we have to remember the laws of the game make the referee the sole judge of time and law on the field. You’re the only one with an issue with his interpretation of law, specifically in the formation of a ruck. Others have an issue with the law itself. We can all disagree with a ref’s decisions periodically, that doesn’t mean we get out and actively advocate that he’s deliberately biased or worse.

          If you really, really have an issue, maybe you should go raise it on Rugby Refs.

        • Who?

          Pearcewreck, I took my own advice. I went to Rugby Refs. They discussed this very topic 2 years ago, and then again (but in much less detail) after the game the other weekend. Several refs said they would rule exactly as you would – that putting a hand on a player close around the ball would constitute the formation of a ruck. Until an experienced ref spoke up. He pointed out that we’re missing our grammar.

          See Post #58 here.

          The laws of the game say this: “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.”

          OB (the ref in question) asked, “Where’s the verb?” A ruck is a phase of play were one or more players from each team do what..? They happen to be on their feet, they happen to be in physical contact. But what they do is ‘Close around the ball’. I read that – as I’d assume the vast majority do, in our rush – as ‘close’ being an adjective referencing proximity. Because we’re looking for something to say it has to be over the ball, in the tackle zone. But instead, in this case, the word ‘close’ is meaning to move towards and surround. Which provides a proximity, but also a direction.

          So, to create a ruck, you need contact between players on their feet, and MOVEMENT TOWARDS THE BALL… Not shouting, just looking for emphasis. In the cases of Italian defenders placing hands on the English attackers, they were not closing on the ball. They were generally stationary or moving away from the ball. As such, Poite’s position is clearly justifiable.

          Further, Haskell’s question about dragging a player in is also then fairly answered (albeit by Hartley), that dragging someone in doesn’t create a ruck. Because that player wasn’t closing on the ball. If the player is closing on the ball, they are able to create a ruck. If they are stationary, they cannot, unless they’ve already closed on the ball and are located in the tackle zone. If they’re outside the tackle zone, to drag them in is cleaning out beyond the tackle zone, and obstruction (a tactic about which we saw many complaints about NZ over the past 15 years).
          It’s also worth noting that the refs in that thread came up with all the correct solutions to the problem faced by England on the first page of the thread, and they also pointed out 15.7 (g), which prevents the scrumhalf (or acting scrumhalf) from being tackled by any player not behind the ball. Which means, the Italian 9 could dance around and block passes, but he wasn’t actually permitted to tackle the English scrumhalf. He’s not generally offside, but he’s offside for that one player. How’s that for a twist in the laws for us to get our heads around?!

  • HK Red

    7th vid, Care’s try should never have been given as he did not play the tap correctly. He either has to kick it forward on the ground and pick it up, or kick it back into his own hands. All he did was touch it to his foot.
    Don’t reckon it would have made any difference though, he still would have burned Italy on the outside even if he did take it correctly.

    • Who?

      I noticed that last night, but the camera angle… I decided to give Poite the benefit of the doubt as to whether it left Care’s hands or not. ;-)

      • Xaviera

        We don’t allow it in the U10s, why should we allow it at Test level. If you recall, this was being policed in the Sydney 7s. Admittedly, RP was unsighted, so simply could have called play back, or asked his AR.

        • Who?

          Same here, we didn’t allow it in U10’s, but… Poite was focused on England not knowing the law of the offside line at a tackle, so he might not have been thinking that they didn’t know that all forms of penalty must be taken as a kick (i.e. the ball leaving the hands and being touched by the foot). If it were a close game, I’d have been spitting.

          But the complaints are generally that England were robbed and wronged – we can’t let the real narrative that Italy were wronged by England being (likely – I’m still uncertain it didn’t actually leave his hands) awarded a try off an incorrectly taken penalty… Same as the AB’s Test a few years ago in Brisbane, where they took a quick tap penalty a good 8m away from the mark and dove over for the try… That might even have been Link’s last Test (I remember I was at the game, at that end, on that side of the posts…).

        • Xaviera

          Yeah – poor lil’ ol’ England. Robbed – they only won by 20. Heartbreaking. Might need to call A Current Affair.

          Eddie outsmarted – he’ll still have steam coming out his ears. Highlighted a weakness of England – a dull on-field leadership group. Alas, we’re struggling a bit on that front too, so hopefully we can smarten up ASAP, because that used to be one of our competitive advantages.

  • harro

    I understand that this is legal, that it was clever of the Italians (even though they didn’t invent it), and that England maybe could have coped better (they still won comfortably in the end), but is this good for rugby? Is it playing rugby in the right spirit?

    Just look at three of the four ways England countered the tactic as identified by Brian: more mauling, holding the ball in the back of the scrum, and more kicking. Not things that most people would want to see more of in a match. The pick and go counter can be stopped provided players still post up as if it were a legit breakdown.

    And of course the only way to ensure it doesn’t become a common tactic is the create a law change. Just what is needed…more laws.

    • Who?

      The primary solution is to play ‘tight-loose’. As in, pick and go, but even better pop pass and go, directly over the tackled player. That’s a space that needs to be filled by the defence (the defender in that space just made a tackle), so with quick ball there’s scope to break out. Because if there’s no ruck over the ball, a pop back to a charging forward is pretty well impossible to intercept (because you can’t be within 1m of the tackle area, other than through the gate, where you’re at risk of creating a ruck if you get too close). So sooner or later you ‘force’ the defence to contest. To slow down your recycle. At which point, you spread the ball, because there’s no one left out wide.

      England were wasting players contesting a non-existent ruck – all of those players could’ve been used for consecutive pop-runs, and look at the numerical advantage they had out wide.

    • HK Red

      There’s no need to draft a new law, the current law is entirely adequate. This tactic is used infrequently and for those that are smart enough and adaptable enough, it’s easily countered.
      This groundswell calling for a law change, just because England and Eddie were confused, is ridiculous.
      “It’s not fair sir, they’re not playing the way we expected them to play. Can you tell them off please sir?”

  • juswal

    Campagnaro’s try is a corker. I hadn’t seen that clip before – thanks, Brian.

    • Xaviera

      Standing up Mike Brown – that has made my day. Surely Brown’s nickname must be Spanner?


Brian Smith is a rare breed who has both played and coached international rugby and doesn't mind telling it as he sees it. He's currently putting his Oxford degree to good use teaching Commerce and coaching rugby at the Scots College, Sydney.

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