Italy's no-ruck tactics should not be banned because it's a defensive choice that leaves you horribly exposed

Italy's approach exists because it doesn't really work over a full 80 minutes

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The fallout from Italy’s ‘no-ruck’ tactics deployed in their 36-15 defeat by England shows no sign of letting up after it emerged that World Rugby is considering a review of the law that allowed them to avoid the ruck and negate the offside line.

The England head coach, Eddie Jones, was irate afterwards after witnessing tactics that he felt “was not rugby” and went against the spirit of the game, while George Ford and Danny Care supported his calls for World Rugby to address the regulation before their penultimate Six Nations match against Scotland a week on Saturday.

The tactics, deployed by Italy coach Conor O’Shea and defence coach Brendan Venter, also drew criticism from World Cup winner Matt Dawson, while his head coach back in 2003, Sir Clive Woodward, claimed that while the ploy was a masterful one, World Rugby needed to address the law in order to prevent the ruck becoming a no-contest.

However, not everyone rushed to criticise the Italian team – something that angered O’Shea immediately after the match as he demanded Italy be treated with respect – with New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup-winning coach lauding the Six Nations’ basement side for trying the risky tactic.

"It's a brave team that tries it," Smith told Fairfax Media in New Zealand. "I think Conor has shown some thinking outside the box and they've been courageous enough to have a crack because there are lot of potential flaws, and not every referee will be in favour of it.

"It's one of those surprise tactics that I think could work now and again, but you certainly couldn't build your game around it. I don't think it requires a law change. The law says you require one from each team over the ball bound together to create a ruck. I can't see them changing that.

"It's not an anomaly in the law, it's just a part of the game, a shock tactic that a team might use now and again but certainly if you became predictable by doing it you'd be cut to bits."

And that’s exactly why the big fuss over rule changes and law clarifications seems somewhat rather unnecessary. This was not Italy ripping up the rulebook, this wasn’t O’Shea flouting the laws in order to gain an underhand advantage. This wasn’t like bowling underarm in cricket, no matter how much Jones wanted to compare the incident to Trevor Chappell against New Zealand in 1981.

This was an incredibly risky strategy that, for 45 minutes, left England scratching their heads. By disturbing the quality of ball between scrum-half Danny Care and fly-half George Ford, Italy had nullified the impact that England’s lethal outside backs can have if given clean ball with space to run into.

But this all changed at half-time, where the message was made clear to England. Be direct, be faster and don’t allow the Italians round to their side of the tackle. It worked and then some, with England running five tries past Italy in the second half and comfortably dominating their opponents after working out how to beat them. That, by all accounts, is a contest.

Despite the criticism he took for asking the referee, Romain Poite, what he wanted to see in the ruck, Haskell actually hit the nail on the head after the match. “It is called a test match for a reason and we have been tested and you always want to learn,” the flanker said.

If teams are willing to play how Italy did on Sunday, they must be wary of the fragility they suddenly create in defence. Once England realised that quick, pick-and-go drives from the base of the ruck left them with big gaps to run in to, Italy soon stopped rushing beyond the ball as they simply did not have enough defenders to cope around the breakdown. As Smith says, if teams want to live by the sword, they will soon enough die by the sword if they choose to persist with such tactics.


O'Shea's side were left exposed once England worked out their tactics (Getty)

Which makes all the talk of rule changes a load of nonsense. If the All Blacks want to abandon their eye-catching style that has kept them at the top of the game for the last seven years, then let them. Of course, they would never dream of it, as this tactic is there for teams trying to shake up the established order, spring a surprise on nations like England and like New Zealand. O’Shea insisted Italy need to change. On Sunday they did, and rugby is better for it, even if Jones has to accept that for 40 minutes he was completely outsmarted.