Rugby fans were left divided and confused by the ruck time tactics employed by Italy during their Six Nations encounter with England yesterday.
Despite the whistles of derision that were sounded in the direction of Romain Poite in Twickenham, Italy were not offside when their players took up positions on the English side of the breakdown, or the area in proximity to where the tackle had occurred.
As we highlighted on Sunday, if a ruck has not been formed, the Italian players cannot be offside as law 16.5 states “Each offside line runs through the hindmost foot of the hindmost player in the ruck”. Therefore without an invisible offside being drawn on the pitch, the Italians were well within their rights to position themselves between Danny Care and the England receivers.
In turn, the England players struggled to comprehend what was going on around them, and fans were left aghast when James Haskell appeared to plead with Romain Poite for advice in how to deal with the Italian approach.
"What do we need to do for a ruck"
"I can't play, I'm the referee, I'm not the coach." pic.twitter.com/pOkeb8n7Ri
— greub (@greub1) February 26, 2017
However, as embarrassing as it was for England, it could have been a whole lot worse. In the aftermath of their defeat to Ireland, Conor O’Shea and Brendan Venter queried a refereeing decision in which the Italian scrum half, Eduardo Gori, was allowed to be tackled when a ruck appeared to be formed.
Like Italy in Twickenham, Ireland hadn’t committed men to the ruck, and were entitled to tackle Gori. However, during the intervening two weeks, World Rugby updated to laws so as to not allow players take out the scrum-half in such circumstances, as it had been deemed not to be in “the spirit of the game”.
Neither O’Shea or Brendan Venter knew of the law change until they met with Romain Poite prior to kick off. Consequently, although the French referee confirmed the legality of the initial part of Italy’s strategy, they would not be able to tackle Care at the base.
Instead, O’Shea asked his players to take up positions between the England scrum-half and their first receivers. However, had the Italians been allowed to take Care out, imagine the chaos they could have wreaked upon a shocked England.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
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