England head coach Eddie Jones has been widely criticised, and supported by some it must be said, for his comments regarding the tactics deployed by Conor O'Shea in Italy's Six Nations loss at Twickenham last weekend.
By not committing to the ruck, the Italian players caused confusion amongst their opposition despite being fully within the laws of the game, and the English were not one bit pleased.
After the game, Jones described the Italian tactics as 'anti-rugby' in a post-match interview that came across as nothing other than sour grapes as the game was more difficult than expected, but Jones received support from the likes of Matt Dawson and Danny Care for his stance.
Sky Sports' rugby presenter and commentator Stuart Barnes, however, has a different take on things.
In his regular column for The Times, Barnes took aim at Jones and used an outstanding example as to why his moaning was not only unfair, but hypocritical.
Eddie Jones coached Australia in the 2003 World Cup final, where they repeatedly collapsed the scrum as they were totally overpowered in that area by the opposition, and Barnes did not hold back.
Well, what were the Wallabies expected to do, follow the game to the letter of the rules and be scrummaged out of the World Cup final? With the benefit of Andre Watson, a South African referee with a lenient interpretation of the scrum laws, Australia conned their way to extra time. England were forced to bring Jason Leonard on from the bench, not to finish off Australia’s scrum but to hold it up, to make sure the infinitely weaker scrum did not nick the tournament off the back of errant scrum penalties. That was “not what the game should be like”. Had England lost, their fans would have wanted their flights refunded, let alone the price of a ticket.
Shame on you, Eddie. For the Australian coach who masterminded the underpowered Australia pack was none other than Eddie Jones. What Italy did on Sunday paled in comparison with the cynicism of Australia on November 22, 2003. Italy played within the letter of the law. There’s been a lot of waffle about “the spirit of the game” but 14 years ago, Australia’s scrum laid into the laws and savaged the spirit of the game. I don’t remember talk of him retiring rather than “be involved in contests that cease to be rugby”, as he said after the victory over Italy.
He may have been shocked by the Italian tactics of not being engaged in every ruck, but it is the failure of packs to engage in scrums that blights the sport most. A one-off shock tactic has been turned into a headline as England’s out-and-out winner of a coach deflects the attention from a third straight sub-par performance.
Well said, Stuart. Well said.
Barnes also took aim at Danny Care who was well and truly corrected for his strange views on Conor O'Shea:
Meanwhile, Conor O’Shea has gone, according to Danny Care who played under him at Harlequins, from being the most attacking man in rugby to the most negative. Well that’s called coaching, Danny, a matter of adaptability. You do what you have to do. That is why O’Shea’s Italy played as they did, that is how an inferior Australia almost stole the 2003 World Cup.
An immensely satisfying read, you can digest the piece in full over on TheTimes.co.uk if you have an active subscription or sign up for one.
Credit to Barnes for for hitting the nail on the head.