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England unravel tactical puzzle to beat ruck-less Italians

February 28, 2017

England's winning run under coach Eddie Jones stretched to 16 matches - and 17 overall - as they stayed on course for the RBS Six Nations title with a bonus point victory over Italy at Twickenham yesterday (February 26th).

However, the eventual winning margin of 36-15 masked the fact that the home side were given a big scare in bizarre circumstances. The Azzurri led 10-5 at half-time after baffling England with their revolutionary tactic of not committing any players at the breakdown bar the immediate tackler, thus ensuring no rucks were formed and nobody could be offside. 

So bemused were England by this novel approach that James Haskell even approached referee Romain Poite to ask what the rule was and what he could do about it, only to be told: "I'm a referee, not a coach". 

Speaking after the match, Eddie Jones said: "It wasn't rugby. Let's face facts, you've got to have an offside line to play the game. Italy were smart and congratulations to their coaching staff and the players, they executed that plan brilliantly, but it wasn't rugby." He suggested the sport's lawmakers might have to consider a rule change.

England had managed to take the lead with a Dan Cole try after 23 minutes, but Tommaso Allan drop-kicked Italy back into the game and when Allan's penalty hit the post, Giovanbattista Venditti snaffled the rebound to score a try that Allan converted.

England came storming back in the second half as they finally worked out a way through the Italian tactics. Danny Care took a quick tap penalty and ran through to score two minutes into the second half and Elliot Daly added another try four minutes later. 

Italy reduced the arrears to 17-15 with a solo try from Michele Campagnaro, but England finished the stronger with tries from Jack Nowell and Ben Te'o to pick up the bonus point.

It all means that fans booking corporate hospitality for the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland on March 11th could see England equal the record of 18 successive wins set by New Zealand only last year. 

The Scots enjoyed their second win of the tournament on Saturday (February 25th) as they beat Wales 29-13 at Murrayfield, their first win over the Welsh since 2007.

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