The Incredible Story Behind Italy’s Brilliant Ruck Tactics Against England

“It looks so wrong, it has to be right.”

That was the response from Conor O’Shea’s brother Diarmuid earlier in the week when he was told about Italy’s ruckless tactic for their Six Nations clash with England.

The clever tactic was actually suggested by defence coach Brendan Venter, and aptly nicknamed “The Fox” by O’Shea.

The whole thing came about following an incident in their heavy defeat to Ireland a couple of weeks back, and from watching Toulouse deploy a similar tactic against Wasps in the Champions Cup.

“There was an offside in the Ireland game that was clarified as being onside,” O’Shea explained.
“We thought it was a missed penalty but we got the reason why and thought ‘oh, that’s interesting’.
“Brendan said ‘please listen and don’t think I’m mad’. We talked last Sunday as a group of coaches and said ‘ok, will we go for this?'”

Thankfully they decided the answer was yes, and the players practiced it to perfection throughout last week. But then, 24 hours before kick-off, came a setback.

Naturally, the Italian coaches decided they would let it be known to match referee Roman Poite what they were plotting in their routine pre-match meeting. The Frenchman however had some bad news – the rule had recently been tweaked.

The issue was this: the lack of an offside line behind the breakdown remained, but they could no longer take out the opposition scrumhalf as it had been deemed not to be in ‘the spirit of the game’.

Italy however did not let this interfere too much with their plan. It was decided that Edoardo Gori would instead hover annoyingly to fluster England scrumhalf Danny Care. It worked a treat, and it caused England a whole lot of problems.

O’Shea said it would be a “sad reflection of what they think that group of players did out there” if they were criticised for it.

“We are not inventing anything,” O’Shea said.
“If there’s a tackle there’s no offside. We can go there. We never played the nine. We just occupied space.
“We didn’t just dream this up on Friday night. A lot of planning went into it. We wanted the ball. The purpose of defence is to get the ball.
“We came here to play. Just remember, we attacked off scrums, we kicked into the corner, we did not come here to roll over.
“We challenged people’s minds and a lot of credit to Brendan Venter for doing what he did. Look at the number of turnovers we got today.”

The Irishman also revealed that the tactic was also used a way of refocusing his side after their defeat in Rome to Ireland, and was designed to give his players a mental boost.

“We wanted to give them hope that they weren’t just going to fill a pitch and be here like the old gladiators with the crowd wanting the hundred.
“If we had said to our players ‘fellas, charge over the trenches again and do the same thing’ then we’d get the same result.”

O’Shea also has a message for those teams still lying in wait.

“We have a few other animals up our sleeves as well, not just The Fox.”


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