By Julian GUYER, AP
Twickenham, United Kingdom- England fly-half George Ford urged rugby chiefs to outlaw the spoiling tactics employed by Italy at Twickenham on Sunday, saying they had the potential to “kill the game”.
Six Nations champions England eventually won 36-15 to remain on course for back-to-back Grand Slams and extend their winning run to 17 successive victories.
But the final score did not tell the story of an extraordinary match where perennial whipping boys Italy, against all predictions, led 10-5 at half-time.
England were repeatedly frustrated during the first half by Italy’s novel tactic of refusing to commit anyone other than the tackler to the breakdown, meaning no ruck was formed.
As a result offside became irrelevant and Italy players could stand directly between scrum-half Danny Care and fly-half Ford.
French referee Romain Poite, who had been warned about Italy’s approach at the traditional pre-match meeting officials have with both teams, saw nothing wrong in what the visitors were doing, with England eventually playing in similar fashion.
England, deploying aggressive runners down the middle, finally got their act together by scoring five second-half tries through Danny Care, Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell (two) and Ben Te’o.
But having seen the tactic in action once, Ford urged officials to prevent a repeat before England face old rivals Scotland in a match for the Triple Crown at Twickenham on March 11.
“Italy came with a tactic of doing what they did around the breakdown which basically meant there was no rugby being played,” he said.
“We sussed out what they were doing pretty quickly but we didn’t act on it quick enough…It was frustrating to say the least.
“We had spoken about it because Fiji in the autumn wouldn’t have a ruck and their 9 (scrum-half) would come between our 9 and 10 (fly-half),” explained Ford after Italy scrum-half Edoardo Gori had done exactly that early on at Twickenham.
– ‘No rugby played’ – “But it’s a different matter if a side is doing it every ruck.
“I hope it will get addressed before the Scotland game because if teams do that it is going to kill the game quickly. There’s no rugby going to be played.”
England coach Eddie Jones said Italy, thrashed 63-10 by Ireland last time out, were merely intent on damage limitation on Sunday as he called for World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont, himself a former England captain, to take action.
“They (Italy) brilliantly executed that game and that got them what they wanted which was a close loss,” said Jones.
“In football they say park the bus. I don’t know what they had, but it was bigger than a bus…If that’s rugby, I’m going to retire. That’s not rugby.
He added: “I’m sure Bill Beaumont watched that game today and will take some action.”
But unrepentant Italy coach Conor O’Shea, who insisted his side had “played to the law”, said: “We are not going to roll over and we are going to fight.
“Just because we took people by surprise, what do they want us to do?”