Rugby: England coach Eddie Jones wasn’t impressed by the tactics Italy employed and he wasn’t afraid to say that after the game.
A LEADING Aussie coach who used Italy’s “Fox” tactic to score a sneaky try last year says every Super Rugby team will be ready for the “risky” ploy and armed with plans to counter-strike.
The view from Norths and Australian under 20s coach Simon Cron came as it emerged the controversial “no offside” tactic used by Italy against England will not only be still possible in the next round of Super Rugby, but any potential law change by World Rugby probably won’t come into effect until 2018.
Italy elicited moans from Eddie Jones by using a law loophole to confound England at Twickenham in their Six Nations clash at the weekend.
Knowing that an offside line is only set when a ruck is formed (which occurs when a second player from the defending team engages a rival over a tackle), Italy kept all other players out of the tackle area.
This allowed them to send players to stand in the English backline, between the halfback and support players.
It looked blatantly offside but technically wasn’t and the tactic, dubbed “the Fox”, caused havoc for the flustered English.
England eventually adapted and won the Test but Jones blew up post-match saying the Azzuri “wasn’t playing rugby”, compared it to Trevor Chappel’s underarm ball and called for World Rugby to change the laws.
Many praised Italy’s streetsmarts but a law tweak now appears inevitable and World Rugby are reportedly considering the matter.
With a round of Super Rugby commencing on Thursday night in Perth, SANZAR referees boss Lyndon Bray spoke with all match officials via teleconference on Tuesday. It is understood he used the call to confirm the legality of the tactic and point to Romain Poite’s handing of the Italian strategy as correct.
There will be no law changes rushed through this week, and due to the rigid nature of the ruck laws, no wriggle room for World Rugby to issue an revised interpretation either.
SANZAR nations have argued for the loophole to be closed in the past and the first step towards a law change is already underway.
It was identified at World Rugby level as a potential problem in April last year after the Chiefs used it. Indeed, a closed law trial has already been set down for this year that will merge “tackle” and “ruck” into one entity — the “breakdown”.
A breakdown — and thus an offside line — will occur when one attacking player is over the ball after a tackle (so, three players). This gives the attacking side power of establishing an offside line.
The trial is set to happen in the ITM Cup, and minor Irish and French leagues and such are the byzantine levels of bureaucracy at World Rugby, a law change is not likely before January 1, 2018.
For a law to be changed, the Law Review Group must first report to the Rugby Commitee, who then report to the World Rugby Council.
So what will stop every side using the Italian “Fox” tactic all year, and in the words of George Ford, “ruin rugby”? The dangerous flip side, says Cron.
“You can really put yourself at risk. If you take two guys out of your defensive line, there are gaps somewhere,” said Cron.
Cron, who led Norths to the Shute Shield title last year, used the same tactic to score a try against Gordon. He got the idea watching the Chiefs, and like Conor O’Shea, alerted the referee to his plans for “zero tackle” pre-match.
“The Gordon coach hasn’t talked to me since. He was extremely upset. Nobody in the crowd knew what was going on,” Cron said.
“It is a loophole that needs to get closed but you also need to be at the forefront of all these rules to be innovative or you get beaten.”
Cron said the value of Italy’s tactic was the shock value, and it worked so well because England took so long to adapt.
He said all Super Rugby teams would be well aware of the strategy and work on plans to take advantage of the “risk”.
“One hundred per cent they will have counter-strategies, they will train it and every coach will have a call to come out as soon as it happens,” Cron said.
“Looking at the way Italy did it, I feel like they put themselves at risk more than most because they had so many guys up past the ball.
“As soon as you do that, your whole defensive line is compromised. You are no longer in a position to defend.
“What you have to do is play tight, so even if the halfback scoots out or has a forward runner off his hip or simply pick and go, all of a sudden those guys who go past the ball are useless to you. Even if you chip in behind.
“That’s where you get exposed. You get exposed around your ruck breakdown defence. There are a whole lot of guys missing from your d-line.”
Cron expects World Rugby will close the loophole.
“Even when we did it, it’s quite uncomfortable, the look, because you are not used to people being on that side of the ruck. It looks quite off-putting, to watch it. There will be a solution,” he said.