Former England head coach Sir Clive Woodward has waded into the debate following Italy’s novel application of the rules against England in their Six Nations encounter on Sunday.
The World Cup winning coach has been writing in his Dail Mail column and has admitted to rethinking his position on Italy’s decision not to contest the ball after a tackle, thus avoiding the formation of a ruck.
In doing this Italy enjoyed the freedom to cross that invisible line that would become an offside line were a ruck called. Instead, Italy could make a nuisance of themselves to Danny Care in the first half of the clash at Twickenham.
While fans and some England players continually cried foul, referee Romain Poite rightly called a tackle and therefore, no offside.
The fall out from the confusion Italy’s tactic caused has seen England boss Eddie Jones call for World Rugby to review and update the rules governing a tackle and to introduce an offside line.
While other voices in the rugby community have commended Italy coaches Conor O’Shea and Brendan Venter for their ingenuity, Woodward has changed his stance following some time to reflect.
Writing in his column, Sir Clive has his say,
“I 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.”
Woodward then swaps his analytical cap for the well worn coaches hat and continues,
“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.”
The former coach then goes on to conclude,
“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.
“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. “
According to the Daily Mail, World Rugby boss Bill Beaumont is due to meet with his elite referees’ manager Alain Rolland on Tuesday and has confirmed they ‘will be discussing it’.
Ultimately, what Italy did was legal and was an intelligent application of the laws in order to level the playing field against a far stronger opposition.
At the very least they should be commended for their ingenuity. Now that all sides are acutely aware of the laws around tackles and rucks, the tactic O’Shea called ‘The Fox’ will quickly become an endangered species.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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