I wrote, yesterday, that I applauded the innovation shown by Italy against England when they used the tackle/ruck laws to their benefit in devising a strategy to put E J’s men on the back foot. It did just that until the 33rd minute, when Nathan Hughes finally twigged and started attacking Italy directly behind the non existent ‘ruck’.
What does concern me, going forward, is how this tactic is refereed.
I have watched the match a couple of times (without the commentary but with the referees mic open) since seeing it live and there are countless problems with how Poite refereed the breakdown.
Firstly, I have to applaud him for the way in which he dealt with the England team’s constant questioning. It is absolutely not his job to let them know how to deal with the situation. However, when he had the various discussions with the bemused Englishmen, he could clearly be heard saying that he would state when it was a ruck and that if he did not then the assumption should be that it was a tackle only. He also said that he did not want players being dragged into the contact area in order to try and create a ruck. Clear enough then.
Given these two comments, I find it disappointing that there were numerous occasions that he didn’t do that and that on more than one occasion he allowed the Italian team to transgress the offside line without penalising them – although he did do on one occasion.
Below I highlight one such occasion where, not only was it clearly a ruck, but the fact that the Italy was clearly offside (and left to carry on) led to an interception of the scrum half’s pass that could have led to a threatening attack by the Azzuri. It took play from the Italian 22m line with England in possession and threatening on the blind side, to Mike Brown recovering a kick just in front of his own 5m line! This incident happened in about the 34th minute of the game.
Above you can see that this is clearly a ruck with two England players in the contact area and, crucially, two Italians.
Above, A further Italian player now attempts to jackle the ball becoming a de facto member of the breakdown.
Above Danny Care has just put his hands on the ball and you can see an Italian player clearly in an offside position. It is not even remotely marginal.
Above, Care now has the ball in his hand. The Italian player has made no attempt to retreat – nor has been told to!
Above, The Italian player is now blocking the pass. The pass is made, the ball is intercepted (admittedly not by the offside player) and play goes on. The pass that was made would never have been made if the Italian player had not been offside and blocking the ‘probable’ pass.
This is possibly the most extreme example of how poorly the contact area was refereed and Poite (who was spoken to about this tactic by O’Shea on Friday) should have been absolutely clear about how to referee the breakdown and done so effectively every time. We, rightly so, expect a lot from the referees at this level and I feel that, on this occasion, Mr Poite did not perform to the standard required.
As an aside, I would be interested to hear if anyone knows what would have happened if England had not played the ball at the contact area. Could we have been sat watching seconds tick by with no action at all? I guess the only way to force play would be for an Italian to enter the ‘non’ ruck to create a ruck. Only at that stage could the referee shout “use it”!