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:
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: