Just not rugby: Italy's tactics anger England in Six Nations
England coach Eddie Jones accused Italy of using a game plan against the spirit of rugby during a Six Nations match on Sunday, comparing the tactics to an Australian cricketer who famously bowled underarm and along the ground to avoid conceding a six.
"I'm not happy with what happened: I don't think that's rugby," Jones said after watching the underdog Italians frustrate England's players with rarely seen tactics at the breakdown during England's 36-15 win at Twickenham.
Instead of contesting the breakdown, Italy's players decided not to compete to reclaim the ball. That meant no ruck was formed and it freed the Italians to get behind the tackle area onto England's side and block any passes.
It was smart and innovative from Italy coach Conor O'Shea — and it bewildered England so much that some of its players asked the referee how they could combat it.
"I was remembering Trevor Chappell, mate," Jones said when asked for his thoughts on his opponent's game plan. "Remember Trevor Chappell, bowled underarm along the ground. Similar rules today."
Jones was referring to an incident in an infamous one-day cricket match between Australia and New Zealand in 1981. The New Zealanders got to the final ball of the match needing six runs to tie, so Chappell was ordered to deliver the ball underarm and deny the batsman the chance to clear the boundary.
"It's not a game of rugby, it ceases to be a game of rugby," said Jones, an Australian. "Congratulations to Italy, they strategically were smart today. Well done to them but it's not rugby, let's be serious about this."
Former England scrumhalf Matt Dawson was also dismayed by Italy's tactics, posting on Twitter: "Imagine the shambles at all the rugby clubs around the world next weekend!! (hashtag)shameonyouConor."
O'Shea was unrepentant, though.
"We have to think differently, like we did today," the Irishman said. "We were playing absolutely legally. What we did today, we played to the laws."
"We have to be horrible to play against," O'Shea added. "We're here to win and not make up the numbers."
At one point, England flanker James Haskell was heard asking referee Romain Poite: "For clarity, on the ruck thing, what do we need to do to make it a ruck?"
Poite replied: "I am a referee, not a coach. You will probably find the solution with your coach."
Dylan Hartley also said he was "confused" by the situation.
"Italy were always going to come here and try different things, but we didn't expect that and I've only seen it once before," said Haskell, who added that it "wasn't a great game for the fans."
"I don't think anyone knew what was going on. The only ones who knew what was going on was the Italians."
England was losing 10-5 at halftime but dealt with Italy's tactics better in the second half, attacking the thin defense around the fringes of the tackle area by using the so-called "pick-and-go."
England scored four tries after halftime to claim a bonus-point win and maintain its perfect record over Italy in 23 meetings between the countries.
"We'll go away and learn from this. That's why it's called a test match," Haskell said.
"Every day is a school day."