VIDEO - England 36 Italy 15: ‘Ask for your money back’ - Eddie Jones baffled by Italy’s confusing Twickenham tactics

0
Have your say

IF YOU think that scoreline is alarming it could have been so much worse for chaotic England.

Beforehand, all the talk was about eclipsing their 80-23 record win over Italy who had already conceded 96 points in their Six Nations home matches to Wales and Ireland.

England's Ben Te'o scores his side's fifth try.

England's Ben Te'o scores his side's fifth try.

However, following a brilliant tactical play by the Azzurri boss Conor O’Shea - who essentially told his defending players not to form rucks - the champions were left in complete confusion and mayhem, trailing 10-5 at the break and in fear of one of the sport’s biggest shocks.

Granted, they finally turned it around but were still just 17-15 ahead in the 70th minute before replacement winger Jack Nowell scored the first of his two tries to ease fears in Twickenham and keep alive their bid for consecutive Grand Slams.

There was already the possibility of chaos given a swirling wind inside HQ; even with it behind him, Owen Farrell - on his 50th appearance - missed touch with one kick during a bizarre opening 40 minutes.

O’Shea’s ploy was genius; in committing no players after a tackle, there are no offside lines, as such.

It meant the visitors - who have never beaten England - were able to shoot up and, quite simply, loiter in among their opponents, disrupting any hopes scrum-half Danny Care had of delivering fast, accurate ball.

Initially, it seemed Italian defenders were just being over-excited but, as the trend continued, it soon became clear it was an extremely clever use of the rules.

Most of the Twickenham crowd was utterly bemused but, just as much, were the players with a perplexed flanker James Haskell asking Romain Poite for “clarity” on what was happening at the ruck.

The French official replied: “I am the ref, not a coach.”

Haskell should have known; Poite consistently shouted “tackle, not a ruck” as Italian defenders continually held back to leave England baffled and making terrible decisions.

Of course, all that was needed to do to neutralise the tactic was for the hosts to get hold of the Italian player nearest the tackle area to form a ruck. Or get quickly over the ball and clear those defenders to create space for Care.

However, befuddled, they simply failed to adjust and looked utterly clueless at times.

It meant, after half an hour, 72 per cent of the play had been in their own half, with Italy dominating everywhere apart from, crucially, on the scoreboard.

The Azzurri really should have been further ahead; Tommaso Allan missed two penalty attempts before he finally scored their first points with a 33rd minute drop goal but twice they drove near only to execute poorly at the last.

England had scored via Dan Cole after a line-out drive of their own but that 22nd minute effort was the first time they had even ventured as far as the Italy 22.

But the visitors went in ahead following another surreal episode with the final play of the first half.

Allan lined up his latest penalty attempt which, again, he should have converted but, instead, it hit an upright.

However, countless England defenders stood and watched the rebound - as Italy winger Giovanbattista Venditti stealed into to pick up the pieces and dive over.

Allan could not miss the conversion and the sides headed back into the dressing rooms as stunned Twickenham began murmuring about just what was going on.

Clearly, whatever was said at half-time - and Jones needed a team-talk of some magnitude - worked, as England returned with some clarity of their own.

Forwards started surging - if there is no tackle, there is no ‘fake’ ruck - and outside them the backs clicked in, upping the tempo.

Typically, it was Care who exploited this most, taking a quick tap penalty to catch Italy napping and sneak between two defenders for a much-needed try just four minutes into the second period.

Farrell could not convert but did so when Elliot Daly scorched in for another after a quality break from James Haskell and some fine handling to the left.

That put them 17-10 ahead but Italy did not cower amid the blitz.

Instead, they responded on the hour when Michelle Campagnaro, the Exeter Chiefs centre, ran over the top of a hapless George Ford, swatting the fly-half aside, and then comfortably side-stepped Mike Brown.

With Allan injured in back play, Edoardo Padovani took over kicking duties, also missing to leave England with a slender lead.

Farrell, though, missed a simple penalty kick which could have been costly but his side finally made sure in the 70th minute.

They had hammered Italy in the corner, sucking in defenders, before switching back to the space where Nowell waited.

Ben Te’o scored next after a charge from Kyle Snickler and Nowell twisted over at the death for his second, Farrell improving both.

England: Brown; May (Nowell 56), Te’o (Slade 76), Farrell, Daly; Ford, Care; Marler (M Vunipola 56), Hartley (George 56), Cole (Snickler 72), Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Haskell (Clifford 72), Hughes (Wood 72).

Italy: Padovani; Bisegni (Benvenuti 52), Campagnaro, McLean, Venditti; Allan (Canna 62), Gori (Bronzini 36); Lovotti (Rizzo 58), Gega (D’Apice 75), Cittadini (Ceccarelli 52), Fuser (Biagi 72), Van Schalkwyk, Steyn, Favaro (Mbanda 58), Parisse.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)