(Reuters) – England are prepared for any tactical surprises Italy may spring in Saturday’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham, having learnt their lessons the hard way in their last clash, scrumhalf Ben Youngs has said.
Eddie Jones’s men were bamboozled by Italy’s refusal to compete at the ruck in their Six Nations match two years ago, and slipped to a 10-5 deficit before rallying to win 36-15.
Jones subsequently criticised the tactic as “not rugby”.
World Rugby introduced rule changes five months later to outlaw the ploy, which had allowed the Italians to legally drift behind the tackle area and obstruct England’s scrumhalf without being offside.
Youngs, who could start at Twickenham, said Jones had warned his players they would have to adapt quickly if the Italians sprung another surprise.
“We were the first to come up against that sort of strategy through the whole game,” the 29-year-old said. “I remember watching and realising there was not an actual lot you could do.
“They made a semi-circle around you, you’ve got nowhere to pass and if you pick and go, you’re back to where you started.
“It was bizarre. You just had to try and create a tackle. If you did manage to create a tackle and got quick ball, then they were all offside so it could change in a blink. It was certainly tactically different and smart by them.”
England are second in the standings, two points behind Wales following their defeat in Cardiff, with Italy bottom on zero points after losing all three of their matches.
Youngs said England would have to be on their toes if they wanted to keep their hopes of winning the title alive.
“One of the things discussed was making sure we’ve got real adaptability because Italy have got a huge amount of things they could do,” he said.
“With coaches like Conor O’Shea and Mike Catt, they’ve got people who aren’t afraid to try different things.”
(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Ian Ransom)