Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

A friend was at Twickenham on Sunday sitting not far from the Italian coaching top brass, Conor O'Shea and Mike Catt. After an early tackle, and no ruck being formed, the Italian players ran to take up space in front of the England backs, blocking their attacking options. 'That's offside,' shouted my friend. Catt, who knew her, glanced up. 'No it's not,' he smiled gleefully. And it wasn't. As the world now knows, the Italians had found a loophole -- there couldn't be an offside after a tackle once neither side formed a ruck. There cannot be many people who care for rugby and applaud the underdog who didn't secretly admire the ruse, which neutered most of England's running back play.

Of course, England's coach Eddie Jones went ballistic, comparing it to the Trevor Chappell underarm bowling furore of 1981. It was, in fact, the sainted Greg Chappell who ordered his brother to bowl along the ground to stop the Kiwi No. 10 hitting a six to tie the 50-over game. The New Zealanders were incensed. The Prime Minister said it was 'an act of true cowardice'. But that is what sport does for you. The Italians have been getting tonked for so long in the Six Nations -- how marvellous seeing them flummox and out-think the big bad English. Earlier, Eddie Jones had said England would take Italy 'to the cleaners'. Good for O'Shea for coming up with a counter. For a while there in the first half, Italy were the Leicester City of rugby.

England skipper Dylan Hartley approached the referee to ask: 'What should we do?' Frenchman Romain Poite (magnificent, by the way) told them: 'Don't ask me; I'm the referee not a coach.' Well, England did event-ually win but a few, like me, would have been happy for it to go the other way: not least for the Italian captain Sergio Parisse, one of the best players in the world. He can barely remember what it's like to win an international. …

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