Italy (+900) vs. France (-1000), Draw (+5000)
Italy (0,0,3, 0 points) hosts France (1,0,2, 5 points) on Saturday, March 11th for the fourth round of the Six Nations Rugby Championship.
Italy have lost all three of their games so far and most recently fell 36-15 to Championship favorites England. But the scoreline doesn’t do the Italians justice. Under the tutelage of Irish Coach Conor O’Shea, Italy employed a tricky tactic that almost won them the game.
They exploited a little-known loophole in the rules that allowed their players to venture into a seemingly offside position during tackles. By not contesting the breakdowns, Italy were able to avoid a ruck from forming, which allowed their players to legally push forward behind the English line.
It’s a tough thing to explain, so have a look for yourself!
The English were left dumbfounded and struggled to wrap their heads around what was going on. They approached referee Romain Poite to protest the Italian strategy, but the Frenchman simply replied: “I can understand your frustration, but this is the law!”
The bewildered English players were completely unaware of the subtle differences between tackles and rucks, and even resorted to asking the referee for advice. But he simply responded with “I am a referee, not a coach.”
This was the first time the tactic had been used at a major competition, but it’s certainly not the first time it’s been played. There was a very simple response available to the English during the tackles: pick the ball and run. But instead they continued to play as if it were a ruck.
To the surprise of everyone (except maybe O’Shea), the first half ended with the Italians in the lead, 10-5. I can only assume the English squad had a brief refresher course during half-time, because they came back in the second half to win the game.
France are currently fifth in the Six Nations standings, above only Italy. They managed to beat Scotland in the second round, and came very close to beating England in the first. They’ve had disappointing results so far, but their performances haven’t been bad.
Italy will not be able to adopt the same tactic twice. And without it, they don’t have much to rely on. It looks like they are headed for their 11th straight loss and their 12th Six Nations wooden spoon (an award given to the last place team).
Pick: France (-1000)
“Scrum” by Alessio Bragadini [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]