Rugby

"Please Listen And Don't Think I'm Mad!" - Conor O'Shea Outlines How Italy Decided On Tactics

"Please Listen And Don't Think I'm Mad!" - Conor O'Shea Outlines How Italy Decided On Tactics

The big book of Six Nations results will record a 36-15 win to England but that, as we know, doesn't come close to telling the story of an extraordinary and landmark test match in Twickenham.

The match will be solely remembered for Italy's tactics. Their daring move to not contest rucks has generated waves of commentary.

Incidentally, this hasn't been confined to the rugby press. The Economist has an article today entitled "A Rucking Mess: Italy Have Shown A New Way To Play Rugby."

Most neutral observers have praised their audacity and tactical innovation (English fans might justifiably scoff at these folk being labelled "neutrals"), while the reaction from a couple of ex-England players has been pompous and sour.

Conor O'Shea defended the tactics and explained that they have their origin in an incident during an incident in the Italy-Ireland game, when the Italian coaching staff assumed that referee Glen Jackson had failed to spot an Irish offside. When they sought clarification, they were told that the Irish player was onside and why that was so.

He credits their defence coach, former Springbok international and World Cup winner Brendan Venter as the man behind the scheme. Venter's taste for mischief isn't just confined to post-match interviews, it would appear.

We didn't just dream this up on Friday night. There was a lot of planning went into it.

Brendan (Venter) said, "please listen, and don't think I'm mad," and I said "well you're made before... (interrupted by translator) and we talked last Sunday (week) as a group of coaches and we said "okay, will we go for this?"

This was not to spoil. This was to get the ball back. Think of the number of turnovers we got today. People look for turnovers and it just baffles me. We were speaking yesterday to Roman (Poite), who I thought was brilliant today, because it's tough. Because as my brother said to me when I told him about, I had to spill the beans to my brother during the week, and he said "I've seen it a few times. It looks so wrong it has to be right."

There was an offside in the Ireland game which we thought it was offside which was clarified as being onside. Nothing wrong, by the way. It wasn't a complaint. We just thought it was a penalty missed. And we discussed it and we got the reason why and we went, "oh, that's interesting..."

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O'Shea later revealed that they almost didn't follow through on the tactic after they were informed that they couldn't tackle the No.9 in this scenario. Originally, rather than forming a ruck, they intended to attack Danny Care. Once they were told this was illegal (see, not everyone knows the laws) they decided on a strategy whereby Gori and others would simply block off Care's passing lines.

Italy, as the comments of O'Shea's brother reveal, aren't the first team to employ the tactic of not contesting rucks.

David Pocock forced a turnover in Lansdowne Road last November when standing between the Irish scrum-half and out-half, while the Waikato Chiefs have adopted them on a number of occasions in Super Rugby, with varying degrees of success.

But Italy are believed to be the first team to employ the tactic so consistently and so relentlessly over 80 minutes of play. The Pocock turnover against Ireland was an isolated incident in the game while the Chiefs have only adopted those tactics for certain periods during the game.

No team has yet deployed those tactics with greater effectiveness than Italy yesterday. The Telegraph ran an article on Sunday entitled 'How Can Italy Avoid A Six Nations Cricket Score Against England?'

They not only did that but with 12 minutes left, were still within a penalty of the lead. Italy have code-named the strategy 'The Fox'.

Watch below:

Read more: All Blacks Coach Speaks Nothing But Sense In His Praise Of Conor O'Shea's Tactics Vs England

Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney

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