That was a pretty interesting match on Sunday at Twickenham. If you have somehow managed to miss the wall to wall coverage of the now infamous ‘ruckgate’ - it was simply Italy exploiting a loop hole in the law to frustrate England. You could argue it worked but ultimately of course it did not except maybe to give Italy a boost of confidence and stop them being hammered again after a dreadful result for them against Ireland. I do not personally have an issue with it although not sure I would want to watch it every week. England would have learnt a hell of a lot from that game. It was not what Eddie wanted to get out of it but it was nonetheless invaluable for the players to come up against something a bit different and learn who to deal with it.
Now that the heat has died down a little from the game my take on it is that England were neither completely unintelligent or the Italians stunningly clever.
It was a smart tactic from Italy coaches Connor O Shea and Brendan Ventner but the confusion came from England not believing Italy would use it all through the game. You could see how England were trying to get back to implementing the game plan Eddie Jones had set and it took a while for them to realise the Azurri were not doing it as a one off! It is also true in the thick of battle as a forward you don’t always see the full picture. Dylan Hartley has said it was hard to see instantly how many blue shirts were in the ruck with the England guys and in the few seconds it takes to check Italy were already around the other side disrupting England’s ball.
I felt a bit sorry for James Haskell who got a fair amount of grief from commentators and fans as he asked referee Poite for clarification on the ruck law. Haskell was quite rightly trying to understand how Poite was seeing the Italian tactic and what he would allow England to do to counter it. Yes you can know the laws in full but the beauty and mystifying aspect of our beloved game is that the laws are still open to interpretation. England wanted to know if they could pull the ‘offside’ Italian into the ruck to create an offside line which is a tactic used in the past to counter this ruse. Poite refused to help clarify anything and so England became frustrated and their game fell apart in the first half.
I was thinking how I would have handled it if it had happened whilst I was captain of England and whilst I would like to say I would have worked out how to counter it within minutes - being honest – I am not so sure I would have worked it out any quicker than Dylan and the team.
In the other games there was a stunning victory for Scotland up in Murrayfield. How impressive have Scotland been recently! I am really enjoying watching them at the moment and for all lovers of the British & Irish Lions whatever country you support it is brilliant to be confident that this year we will see a much better mix of the Home Nations with at least 6 Scotland players surely on that plane to New Zealand.
Wales’ struggles continue however and after such a strong performance against England they let slip another game where they dominated in the first half. Such a lot of talent in that squad yet the issue seems the ability to finish off chances. Not wanting to bore you with stats but there is a fascinating set of them I saw which show that out of all the G nations Wales make less use of the ball out of everyone except Italy. Worrying times especially as the World Cup pool draw happens soon and Wales could find themselves once again a third seed so having to beat two top sides to progress.
The boys in green had a bit of a battle against a monstrous French side but thanks to the magical vision and boot of Jonny Sexton and Connor Murray always looked in control. I was rather hoping this Six Nations would see the complete revival of France as the typically Gallic team with wonderful skills allied to strong set piece. The set piece is there but the skills not so much. Plenty of work for Guy Noves yet.
Six Nations takes a break this weekend so I will be keeping an eye on the Aviva Premiership as relegation candidates Bristol and Worcester meet for what could be a decider. Should be a humdinger!