Donal Lenihan has praised Conor O’Shea’s bravery for implementing Italy’s unusual breakdown tactic in Sunday’s Twickenham clash with England, but doesn’t expect many copycat attempts from other coaches.
World Rugby is believed to be considering a review of the breakdown law with England coach Eddie Jones infuriated by the visitors’ strategy of refusing to compete for possession after a tackle had been made, thereby ensuring no ruck was formed and there was no offside line.
It meant Italy were legitimately able to swarm over the RBS 6 Nations champions from all directions as they sought to use the ball.
England ultimately emerged conclusive 36-15 winners, but an angry Jones said of the ploy, “If that’s rugby, I’m going to retire,” adding that the laws must be revised or the game will “cease to be rugby”.
But speaking on the Irish Examiner rugby podcast, Donal Lenihan doesn’t see an urgent need to change the laws, and can’t see a repeat of the approach during the remainder of the Six Nations.
“You only get away with these things once. It’s like the lineout that Scotland did against Ireland. You catch a team unawares. Teams will be prepared against Italy next time.”
The tactics have been evident in other games at Test and club level, although never for the entirety of a top-level match. “The same thing happened at the Aviva when Pocock intercepted from Conor Murray,” said Lenihan.
“It’s a negative tactic, there’s no doubt about that. I think it was a brave decision of Conor O’Shea to implement the tactic. It was a huge risk to take in the middle of an international.
“Had England adjusted and just picked and driven through the ruck as they did in the second half, Italy were totally exposed.”
Lenihan was surprised by how slowly Eddie Jones’ side reacted and feels the Italian method could have been easily counteracted.
“It was farcical, the scenario of Dylan Hartley going up time after time to the referee Romain Poite asking ‘what are we going to do about this’ and Poite just looking at him saying ‘it’s not my problem’.
“All you have to do is drive through the middle and suck in the defenders that are standing off. What amazed me was the time it took England to adjust. Why didn’t some message or note come in from the sideline?”
Jones was not amused by the sometimes farcical scenes but Lenihan found the exchanges entertaining.
“I found it fascinating watching the whole thing unfold, but if you paid £110 to go in and watch it, you might feel cheated.”
Wayne Smith, part of New Zealand’s coaching team for their back-to-back World Cup wins, experimented with the approach once when at the Waikato Chiefs but never revisited it.
“It’s a roll of the dice in many ways,” Smith told Fairfax Media in New Zealand.
“There’s an obvious weakness in that you can pull out of the tackle and put no-one else in, but it’s hard to avoid them pulling you in.
“So if someone over the ball grabs hold of you, all of a sudden the ruck has been formed and the defensive line has to go back. I don’t think it requires a law change.”
Rucking ructions: Donal Lenihan on Italy’s breakdown tactic
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