Anyone else puzzled to what was going on? It was definitely the strangest match of rugby I have ever seen, at any level. Fortunately, some stern words at half-time from coach #Eddie Jones got England to combat #italy’s no-ruck strategy during the most recent round of the Six Nations. In the end it was nullified as the home side romped home six tries at Twickenham, winning 36-15. Jones said in his post-match interview that what the Italians did ‘wasn’t rugby’ and that World Rugby will have to look at changing the rules.

The breakdown of the breakdown

So what exactly were Italy doing? When a tackle is made, and the ball-carrier goes to ground, a ruck usually follows.

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This is when one or more men from either side look to seal off the ball to give their team possession. When a ruck is formed, an off-side line is created at the back of the ruck, and no player can cross this when the ball is played, otherwise they will concede a penalty. But with Italy, they were not committing any men into the ruck when England had possession, allowing them to keep the ball but therefore not creating an off-side line.

The Italian half backs and loose forwards could then run around the ‘tackle area’ (where the ruck would normally be), and block the passing lines of the scrum-half. It unsettled the England side as they couldn’t get the ball into the hands of orchestrators George Ford and Owen Farrell. The tactic has been used by Super Rugby side Chiefs, but used as and when as opposed to an all out display from the Italians.

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How do you combat the ‘no ruck’ strategy?

There are three ways of battling the ‘no ruck’ tactic. Firstly, you play the ball quickly. You will need a fit scrum-half who can get to the tackle area quicker than the surrounding defenders. With no counter-ruck, you should be able to give quick-ball to the backline.

Secondly, get to the breakdown quickly and drag the nearby defenders into the tackle area to create a ruck. Any man then crossing the gain-line will be off-side and you will either have a penalty or more controlled ball. Similarly, if you clear out the the nearby defenders, you will open up a gap in front of the tackle area, and this was how Danny Care managed to get one-on-one with Italy full-back Edoardo Padovani in the first half, and perhaps should have tested the defender more.

Thirdly, simply, most effectively and what England used against Italy was the pick & go. With no men rucking against you, that means you will gain metres by just simply picking the ball up at the base of the ruck and bundling towards the defenders.

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England then stretched this into some attractive off-loads, and although this is high-risk, when paid off it gives high-reward. England should have thought quicker to turn to this strategy, and captain Dylan Hartley has accepted responsibility for their slow response saying he was ‘confused’.

Is 'no rucking' here to stay?

England coach Eddie Jones among other rugby experts have said that the laws needed to be changed on this matter. World Rugby, the governing body, has said that it is too early to decide whether the laws should be altered. However, the responsibility doesn’t rely with them. When England came out with a clear game-plan in the second half at Twickenham, they scored a further five tries, showing how easily it can be nullified. That first half and much of the second wasn’t much of a spectacle, with Jones stating that fans and broadcasters should ask for their money back. World Rugby will not want such an event to happen again, but they will equally not want to alter the laws unless absolutely necessary. Until a side can perfect ‘no ruck’ strategy, then I think it will be here to stay, and it will still be in place when the 2

That first half and much of the second wasn’t much of a spectacle, with Jones stating that fans and broadcasters should ask for their money back. World Rugby will not want such an event to happen again, but they will equally not want to alter the laws unless absolutely necessary. Until a side can perfect ‘no ruck’ strategy, then I think it will be here to stay, and it will still be in place when the 2023 World Cup comes around, wherever it may be.