Referee backed by world body

Italy's Simone Favaro (right) tackles fellow flanker James Haskell of England during their Six Nations clash at Twickenham. Haskell and skipper Dylan Hartley tried to ask the referee about the rules of the game during England's 36-15 victory on Sunda
Italy's Simone Favaro (right) tackles fellow flanker James Haskell of England during their Six Nations clash at Twickenham. Haskell and skipper Dylan Hartley tried to ask the referee about the rules of the game during England's 36-15 victory on Sunday after they were stunned by Italy's decision not to form rucks.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Despite Jones' fury at Italy's tactics, Haskell says England were outfoxed by Azzurri

LONDON • England flanker James Haskell admitted his rugby union side had been out-thought by Italy as the debate over the Azzurri's unorthodox approach to the breakdown continued.

England coach Eddie Jones was seething as a struggling Italy, defying all pre-match predictions, led the Grand Slam champions 10-5 at half-time in Sunday's Six Nations international at Twickenham after repeatedly refusing to form rucks.

With this game plan they could legitimately stray offside - a move England's 2003 World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward called "innovative and inspired".

England eventually regained their composure to win 36-15 as they extended their winning steak to 17 successive Tests.

But an angry Jones called for the rule book to be revised and accused referee Romain Poite of looking "flustered", with the Australian adding: "I've never seen a referee lose his perspective of the game."

But the man who pioneered the tactic accused Jones of being "rude", while World Rugby said Frenchman Poite and his colleagues had "officiated law correctly".

Haskell was involved in a comical incident when, having asked Poite "what the exact rule is", he received the reply: "I can't say, I'm the referee, I'm not a coach."

Said Haskell: "Fair play to Italy, it was clever on their part and they are very well coached. We will go away and tactically talk through a lot of things and work on how we can react a lot quicker but we got the win and so let's not get too down on ourselves."

A World Rugby spokesman indicated that no immediate rule changes were planned, saying: "There is a formal process for unions to request law clarifications, if they wish to do so."

England's Rugby Football Union said it did not plan to utilise that procedure, with a spokesman explaining: "This type of issue is discussed 'in the round' with World Rugby, through the normal structures and meetings.

"World Rugby regularly issues clarifications on various laws, so it could decide to do this anyway, due to the interest generated by yesterday's match."

As part of the standard post-2015 World Cup review into the laws of the game, officials were already looking into the tackle and ruck area. England fly-half George Ford warned it would "kill the game quickly" if other sides followed Italy's example as "there's no rugby going to be played".

Despite England's outrage, this was not the first time the tactic had been deployed, with New Zealand's Waikato Chiefs having done something similar in Super Rugby and Australia's David Pocock nearly creating a try against Ireland last year with the ploy.

Englishman Ben Ryan, who as England Sevens coach pioneered the "no-ruck" ploy in the abbreviated form of the game in 2012, said he had been stunned by Jones' fury.

"I am flabbergasted with Eddie Jones' reaction to it. It is called coaching, Eddie," Ryan, who guided Fiji to Olympic sevens gold in Rio de Janeiro last year, told The Times. "He is being quite rude to people, fellow coaches who outmanoeuvred him. Good on Italy. We haven't seen England doing anything different at all."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Referee backed by world body'. Print Edition | Subscribe