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England remain on track for back-to-back Six Nations titles after entertaining Italy win


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England remain on track for back-to-back Six Nations titles after entertaining Italy win

England continued to wobble towards retaining the Six Nations crown with an entertaining home win over Italy on Sunday.

Italy had the host scratching their heads in the first half by refusing to commit to the breakdown.

The tactic bamboozled their opponents and helped Italy to a half-time lead at Twickenham.

Once England figured it out they pulled away in the second half, although Italy continued to threaten.

In the end England proved too strong with a flurry of second-half tries and went on to enjoy a 36-15 victory.

England’s tenth Six Nations win in a row, plus the bonus point earned for six tries, puts them top of the table ahead of Ireland and Scotland – two teams England still have to play.

Far from convincing

It was arguably England’s worst performance under coach Eddie Jones.

England produced a first half full of errors and though Dan Cole bundled over the line in a rare attack to put them 5-0 up they were lucky to reach the break 10-5 down after Giovanbattista Venditti scored a try for Italy after an earlier Tommaso Allan drop goal.

Quickfire tries for Danny Care and Elliot Daly after the break put England back in control but Michele Campagnaro stormed through some lackluster defending to get the visitors to within two points, offering Italy a glimmer of chance for a serious upset.

But Jack Nowell crossed for England’s fourth, bonus-point, try while Ben Te’o touched down for a fifth.

Nowell capped the afternoon off with his second in the last minute of play.

‘‘That’s not rugby’‘

England coach Eddie Jones launched an extraordinary attack on Italy’s innovative breakdown tactics, saying “that’s not rugby” and that the fans should get their money back.

Italy’s tactic of not putting anyone into a ruck allowed their players to legally drift behind the tackle area and obstruct the England scrumhalf without being offside.

England required a long time to get to grips with the situation, with French referee Romain Poite at one stage telling them: “I’m the referee, not the coach, you have to find a solution,” after flanker James Haskell asked for clarification.

The situation became even more bizarre when England briefly adopted the same approach at the breakdown in the second half.

Jones, however, did not see it as a clever variation, comparing the tactics to Australian Trevor Chappell’s infamous underarm delivery to prevent the batsman hitting a boundary with the last ball of a one-day cricket international against New Zealand in 1981.

“That wasn’t rugby today, if that’s rugby I’m going to retire, I don’t want to be involved in that,” said the Australian.

“If your halfback can’t pass the ball, there’s something wrong with the game. If the 10 can’t see the ball, how do you play rugby?

“We lost the ruck from the game and it ceases to become rugby so if you paid for your ticket, ask for your money back.

“I can’t answer questions on rugby because there wasn’t any today.

“We probably got flustered a bit by their tactics, which is normal,” added Jones, who got very agitated when it was suggested his team should have been quicker in reacting to the tactic.

“Yeah, good question, I got it wrong, I’m just a silly coach,” he said, before reminding the audience that his team remained on course for the title after their third win.

England lock Joe Launchbury was named man of the match but Jones said Italy scrumhalf Edoardo Govi should have got the honours for his role in Italy’s obstructing tactics. “He was outstanding, every time we tried to pass the ball he was there,” said Jones.

Unsurprisingly, Italy coach Conor O’Shea had a different take on the day’s main talking point, saying that his team had merely found a way to use the sport’s labyrinthine laws to their advantage, having cleared the tactic with referee Poite before the game.

“What do people want us to do? Be normal, lay down and get beaten? We can’t be normal, we have to be Italy,” said the Irishman who took over last year.

“We will dig our way out of this hole by thinking differently. We’re not inventing anything – it’s a tackle so there’s no offside. We never played the nine, we just occupied the space.

“It’s nothing new but when Australia or Toulouse did it, it was fantastic but when Italy do it, it’s wrong. We did not come here to roll over. They wanted 70 points, to take us to the cleaners. Is that respect?

“It’s about time Italy got some respect,” he added. “When we beat South Africa in November they’re terrible. When England beat them it was the first win for 10 years; brilliant, well done England.”

“You are going to see us do things differently. You saw it today – we’ve had enough, we are going to fight.”

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