Italy had the right to use ploy against England but for the good of the sport it must be outlawed nowI have rarely known an incident cause such debate! I admit, now the dust has settled, my view on Italy’s anti-rucking tactic has altered. It can’t be allowed so the law must be changed.Rugby must have an offside line and, in that respect, I support England coach Eddie Jones when he says World Rugby need to act in redefining what constitutes a ruck and the offside line. The thinking seems to be that the offside line should be drawn the moment a tackle is completed and that seems right.I still, however, support Italy’s right to do what they did at Twickenham on Sunday.Italy’s coaching staff, notably Brendan Venter, had seen examples of teams standing back and not forming a ruck — Conor O’Shea name-checked Toulouse and Australia — and decided to use those tactics to spread a little anarchy.I don’t really buy their argument that it was designed to win the game. I suspect they thought it would probably last for 10 minutes before England reacted with a ruthless pick-and-go game. But it derailed England for 40 minutes.Italy, with many expecting them to ship 70 points, did everything within the laws to make life difficult for England. I can’t criticise them for that even if I do feel there was a slightly unnecessary element of gloating afterwards. They still lost by 21 points.Up in the TV box we were intrigued and animated — former players and coaches analysing an unusual scenario in real time — but if I was in charge of England I would have been pretty hacked off.I would have been unhappy at Italy’s negative tactics which are against the spirit of the game and been really annoyed at England’s inability to answer the questions being posed. Some of that must come down to Eddie and his coaches failing to get the right messages on to the field.An England player needed to go down with a knock to let the troops gather round and get it sorted. ‘KitKat’ we used to call it — time for a break. Cynical but that’s the real world.It emerged later that England knew of such tactics from the Australia match against Ireland last November and Paul Gustard, England’s defence coach, said plans were in place to counter ‘anti-ruck’ tactics. Well, those plans took way too long to implement.We must now make sure this is a one-off. Italy did nothing wrong technically but it’s not in rugby’s interest to have showpiece games hijacked like this.If Italy had won it would have been big news — for the wrong reasons — and there would have been an even bigger stink. Imagine what would happen if a World Cup was won by a team using such tactics?On Monday, many sports-minded people asked me what the hell had been going on at Twickenham. That cannot be good for the game.Rugby union is still a middle-ranking sport in world terms and we are trying to sell ourselves to a bigger audience. Matches like this serve only to confuse and frustrate potential fans and players tuning in for the first time. It confused and frustrated some old-timers too!Two more thoughts. Well done James Haskell for being the one England player who tried to solve the problem on the hoof. He will possibly be lampooned and Roman Poite’s remark, ‘I am the referee not your coach’ will live in the memory. But Haskell was right to try to get to the bottom of the matter. He was polite, asked the right questions and was insistent. He showed real leadership.Secondly, I feel for Poite. He is a great referee and handled it brilliantly but others might not react so well.The Italians had told Poite in their pre-match meeting that they intended to use the tactics and Poite had said, correctly, that they were perfectly legal while pointing out a World Rugby directive that they could not challenge the scrum-half directly. At that point, however, a sort of priest and confessor relationship seems to have taken over. And that’s not healthy either.Poite cannot be seen to favour one team over the other, and, in the match, was honour-bound only to starkly remind players of the law if they requested.However, for the sake of the spectacle, Poite almost needed to stop the match and explain to everybody — including the crowd on Reflink — what was going on, but Italy could rightly say that would nullify an important part of their game-plan.This is just far too messy to be allowed to continue. It would probably only have a short shelf-life anyway because once teams know the antidote it ceases to become effective, but for the greater good, anti-rucking must be outlawed now.
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