The Six Nations are back and served us some interesting bending of the rules, some angry coaches, some ruined campaigns, and a compelling setup for the final two weeks.
Those Cheeky Italians
Where else to begin but the match that everyone is talking about. Eddie Jones had talked post-match about how he expected the Italians had planned something, but little did he think it would be this. The Italians cheekily exploited a rule in the rule book outlined here:
16.5 (c) Players joining or rejoining the ruck. A player joining a ruck must do so from behind the foot of the hindmost team-mate in the ruck. A player may join alongside this hindmost player. If a player joins the ruck from the opponents’ side, or in front of the hindmost team-mate, the player is offside. A player may bind onto an opposition player providing the player is not otherwise offside.
By not even committing themselves to the ruck, which stipulates that you must have your hands on a member of the opposition, this means the ruck never forms, which rules out the offside rule, allowing the Italians to come forward. Quite frankly, its genius. Cheeky as hell, and some may argue it isn’t in the spirit of the game, but its legal. They even cleared it when they meet Poite the day before. But I don’t blame the Italians. The rugby public have been getting on their back recently about whether they should even be in the Six Nations. To go out there and be different and leave an impression was a big middle finger to all that, and I think it was somewhat warranted. Regardless, like the previous weeks, their second half was pretty average and they let the English run away with it again.
Those Angry Englishman
Another week, another slow start for the English. Much of the team were left scratching their hands as to how they could combat the Azzurri strategy. This was a sight that in their seventeen-match winning streak, they had never experienced before. Eddie Jones, while praising Italy for their tactics, also commented that “it wasn’t rugby”:
“How can you have players standing in your attack line? Even when there were rucks, there were people standing in our attack line. You look to pass the ball and there’s a blue jumper there. You look in front and there’s a blue jumper there. There’s blue jumpers everywhere. He [Poite] had a terrible day. He wasn’t refereeing rugby… I feel like I haven’t coached today. Let’s be serious. It wasn’t rugby today.”
With all due respect to Eddie Jones, to me it shouldn’t matter to him what the Italians play. What matters is his teams result. His team won. 36-15. His claim would only have really mattered if the Italian tactics had made his team lose the match. He himself had been planning to “take Italy to the cleaners” earlier in the week. He expected that would happen, that the Italians would lie down and let it happen.
Talk about showing a lack of respect before kick off! The Italians made a game of it. They took it to England in a way never seen before in rugby. They did because they are now a team fighting for respect in the European rugby community. They refused to be once again that team that got routinely flogged, and demanded more respect. They deprived England of what they expected (a massive victory) and very nearly got the win.
Show that respect. England won Eddie. Your team won. You got the result you were going for. Shut up and move on.
Poite certainly had an interesting night refereeing the match, including a comment that he made to the English when they asked about the rules of the ruck, that has since circulated around rugby forums and news rooms worldwide: “I am a referee, not a rugby coach.”
The Italians played by the book and Poite knew it. But outside of that, his calls raised raised a few giggles. When he did blow the whistle for a Italian infringement, he let loose this comedy classic: “Advantage offside – the man with the beard.”
What was more worrying though came in the 58th minute. When Jack Nowell apparently scored for England, Poite blew his whistle before Nowell put the ball down due to a suspected obstruction. He asked for the TMO advice and George Ayoub confirmed it. However, what if Ayoub had thought there was no obstruction? Would the try have stood if the whistle had been blown before the grounding? According to Lee Grant, Poite has done this before, in club rugby. Goddamn it Roman, keep your hands off the whistle! Take a leaf out of Nigel’s book please!
Winners and Losers
Enough of that game. In the other matches of the round, the Scottish defeated Wales at Murrayfield for the first time in ten matches, winning 29-13. God, I am loving watching the Scottish right now. They are a team that should command more respect from their opposition, which they may finally be earning judging by their current campaign. They are currently playing like men possessed, even without Greg Laidlaw. Who’d thought that after dispatching Ireland and Wales, they would be on the cusp of winning the Triple Crown? They still have to beat England at Twickenham though. No easy feat.
The Irish have too recovered from their first round loss to the Scots, dispatching Italy and now France 19-9 on the weekend in Dublin. The men in green have looked like they’ve begun to find their rhythm again, but by how much will depend on how they go against the Welsh next week in Cardiff. Should they dispatch the Scarlets, that should set up a thrilling decider against England in Dublin in the final week.
Speaking of the English, they now have a serious two-week period ahead of them. They are one match off from equaling the All Blacks record of eighteen wins in a row, and they can take some comfort out of the fact they are playing at Twickenham. The only negative is they are playing against an in-form Scottish outfit, who will prove a tricky obstacle. For the Scots, they have everything to play for: they have never won the Six Nations in its current form, and haven’t held the Calcutta Cup since 2008. It’s gonna be a cracker.
If the English do overcome Scotland, they may face an even more daunting prospect: Ireland in Dublin. If the Irish beat Wales, this match may prove to be the decider of the Six Nations, as Ireland have a larger points differential due to their demolition of Italy. If the English win, not only do they win the Six Nations and the Grand Slam, they also break the All Blacks record. It’s going to be an interesting two weeks.
What about France, Italy and Wales?
Well, while the Six Nations is still up for grabs for Ireland, Scotland and England, the same can’t be said for Italy, France or Wales. Of the three teams that may still have a chance, the Welsh are the clear candidates, after pushing the English in Cardiff. The Scarlets however have misfired in multiple occasions this tournament, so I don’t see that happening.
I see that happening even less for the French. Their quest to finish outside the bottom two has certainly not started in the right fashion, and the fact they’ve only scored two tries in three games may be something to do with that (even Italy have scored more tries than them!). While their quest to win back the Six Nations is as good as gone, they do have the potential to finish the tournament on a high, facing Italy in Rome next week and Wales at Stade de France the week after. Maybe that bottom two curse may break this year?
As for Italy… blimey, I don’t know where to start. They’ve been off the pace for the entire series, and its inconceivable to think they won’t finish last, particularly when you consider they still have to face an in-form Scottish team in the final round at Murrayfield. But, the one thing that is positive is this: they will take a huge amount of confidence out of their game against England. For one half, they had the upper hand against the tournament favourites, and that might lead to some success in the last two weeks. Only one problem: rugby is a game of two halves…