The Roar
The Roar


England rucked off and five other thoughts from the weekend

The Crusaders are on fire. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Roar Guru
27th February, 2017
2185 Reads

It’s not a bad thing when a weekend of rugby begins on a Thursday evening and is still going strong on Monday morning – a bit like a couple of faded rugby stars on the disco dandruff… here’s six observations from the weekend’s action.

Italy leave England completely rucked off
I’ll start at the finish and Italy’s audacious attempt to derail England’s winning streak by refusing to form a ruck in their Six Nations clash at Twickenham.

The lowly ranked visitors’ cunning plan was to not contest nor create rucks when tackling an English player, meaning there is no offside line.

No offside means the Italians were able to roam freely in behind the ruck and get into the spaces and faces of the English, making it virtually impossible for halfback Danny Care to feed his backline.

The tactic worked a treat for much of the first half which left England utterly flummoxed trying to thread a knot of arm-waving Italians.

There were amazing scenes as England’s perplexed captain Dylan Hartley and his chief lieutenant James Haskell quizzed referee Romain Poite about what was going on and what to do.

Only for the Frenchman to respond with a line that is already folklore: “I am the referee, I am not a coach”.

It took until about five minutes from halftime before England came to terms with what was happening and took a far more direct pick and go approach to negate the tactic.


Going into the break 5-10 down, they ended up comfortable 36-15 victors.

After the game England coach Coach Eddie Jones likened the move to Trevor Chappel’s infamous 1981 underarm bowl against New Zealand

All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith called it a “surprise tactic that I think could work now and again, but you certainly couldn’t build your game around it… if you became predictable by doing it you’d be cut to bits.”

Certainly England seemed to take an age to get over the shock and view having less players in a defensive line in front of them as an opportunity rather than a threat.

They’re fashioning a great record but the jury’s still well out on whether this is a great England team.

A resurgent Scotland, fresh from their heater skelter win over Wales at the weekend now stand in their way of equalling the All Blacks tier One world record of 18 consecutive wins when they meet at Twickenham on 11 March in a match that could also decide this year’s Six Nations.

Mouth watering!


Bismarck du Plessis of South Africa (R) is yellow-carded by referee Romain Poite (L) during the Rugby Championship Test rugby union match between the New Zealand All Blacks and South Africa at Eden Park. AFP PHOTO / Michael Bradley

Cheesed off by too much yellow
The referees threw the yellow cards around like confetti at a Mr Men nuptials during the opening round of Super Rugby at the weekend.

No fewer than 11 were handed out over the nine games, including five in just two: Kings versus Jaguares (three) and Cheetahs versus Lions (two).

Only the Chiefs’ away victory over the Highlanders was completely free of the yellow peril.

Perhaps this was always going to be the case as refs bedded in new protocols, such as the much talked about one around head high contact.

While not all the pieces of cheese were for head highs, a number were and at least one appeared to be an over-reaction.

I refer to Reds fullback Karmichael Hunt’s binning for a high shot on Sharks winger Lwazi Mvovo who, when racing for the corner, had made a sudden movement infield and crouched low to get across the line.


Hunt had initially lined him up for a ‘ball-and-all’ try-saver and was committed to that before Mvovo’s sudden change of tack.

The initial contact was on the shoulder but ended up around the head – clearly not Hunt’s express intention.

Despite this Kiwi ref Nick Briant judged the tackle to be reckless and not accidental and so Hunt was sent to the naughty chair.

I’m with esteemed Roarer Diggercane who wrote this about the decision: “I can accept a penalty for the accidental contact but a yellow card was a rubbish decision.”

But one passage of the weekend’s play restored my faith that even in such a litigious age, common sense can prevail.

All it takes is a ref prepared to see things for what they are, not what they might appear to be.

It occurred during the seventh minute of the Highlanders versus Chiefs boilover in the cacophonic Forsyth Barr Stadium.


The Chiefs were hot on attack when Highlanders Centre Malakai Fekitoa raced up to smash opposing fullback Damian McKenzie in a splendid ball-and-all-tackle that hovered around McKenzie’s shoulders.

Thankfully ref Mike ‘no yellow card’ Fraser rightly saw no cause to sanction Fekitoa and play continued.

With the momentum of their attack halted, Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow was similarly monstered in a chest-on-chest hit by home hooker Liam Coltman and in the ensuing ruck Chiefs right wing Tony Pulu found himself between the ball that had been rightfully won by the Highlanders and their halfback Aaron Smith who proceeded to climb into some good old fashioned rucking, letting his tags suggest to Pulu that he might want to extricate himself from that position.

Scrum, Highlanders ball. Great defensive play. Great work ref. It’s amazing how good rugby will have a habit of breaking out when the players are left to get on with it.


Collapsing scrums upheld
It was also heartening to see the refs across the board generally letting play go on following collapsed scrums where no one’s safety was in jeopardy and no apparent infringement had occurred.

One such collapsed scrum led directly to centre Samu Kerevi’s try early in the second half of the Reds narrow victory over the Sharks.


There’s little more frustrating than when the ball’s at the feet of the No.8 only for the whole dreary thing to get blown up and reset because both front rows happen to have hit the deck.

No one, not even Phil Kearns, watches rugby for scrum resets. I doubt this show of common sense was a result of any specific SANZAAR edict handed down to refs but am happy to give the beleaguered body a hearty high five if I’m proved wrong.

Eclipsed Sunwolves shine through at the end
The theory that the Sunwolves were better to come up against the Hurricanes first up before the defending champs had found their stride didn’t hold a lot of water.

Fifty-eight minutes after kick-off in Tokyo the home team had conceded 13 tries and 83 points, overwhelmed by a perfect storm of power, pace and panache.

You can call this new Japanese franchise many things: out of their depth, poorly prepared, poorly conceived, over-travelled, but you cannot say they are lacking in courage or tenacity.

Remarkably they managed to hold their line for the final 22 minutes of the match in a period where they scored two tries themselves to win the final quarter 12-0, sending their big and excitable crowd into an absolute frenzy.

Something to clutch at for their next outing against the Kings at ‘home’ in Singapore this Saturday?


Although the sixth South African franchise appeared marginally improved on last year, they were still soundly beaten 39-28 by the Jaguares in Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

This Saturday’s match already appears the best and perhaps only chance either team have of wining a game this season and that’s no good for anyone.

Losing Brumbies looked the best Aussies on show
For me, somehow the Brumbies looked better losing away to the Crusaders than either the Reds or Waratahs looked in winning at home at the weekend.

Despite frittering away all sorts of opportunities on attack via aimless and thoughtless kicking and conceding tries in the fourth and 34th minute (the latter with wing James Dargaville in the bin), the men from Canberra put in a hefty defensive shift in the first half.

A change of tactics at half time paid immediate dividends when some vintage Brumbie link play had giant second rower Rory Arnold crashing over the line immediately after the resumption.

The home side did score three tries to one and had the dominant scrum but just couldn’t put the Brumbies away.

Scott Fardy was back to his pilfering, marauding best and his ultimate journeyman mate on the open side Chris Alcock wasn’t far behind him.


In his Super Rugby debut Brumbies halfback Joe Powell showed why Michael Cheika rates him so highly.

His lightning clearances off the deck and ability to take multiple defenders out of play with bullet cut out passes was reminiscent of All Black maestro Aaron Smith at his best. Sadly though, for Highlanders fans, nowhere near where Smith is himself at the moment.


Tale of two states of Israel
Still, the Brumbies did lose to the notoriously slow-starting Crusaders first up – apparently the Cantabs’ first opening win at home since 2010.

The seven-time champs look to have a real spring in their step under new coach Scott Robertson, a bloke much less averse to rolling the dice than his predecessor Todd Blackadder.

No one embodies their new found expression more than fullback Israel Dagg who has kicked off the new year in much the way he finished the old, in scintillating form.

He just looks to be seeing it like a beach ball at the moment. He popped up everywhere and gassed through gaps that didn’t appear obvious for 111 running metres. Then leapt like a salmon to field high balls and lent his shoulder into some big D.


In the end his exquisitely timed pair of try assists proved to be the winning of the game.

Compare that with the form, or lack thereof of his Tahs namesake. The contrast could not be more stark.

Where Dagg was ominous, Folau was anonymous, running the ball for a meagre five metres on a dreary night in Sydney’s middle East.

Sure it was a turgid, scrappy affair in the wet against the Force but a player of Folau’s ability should be able to make things happen and conjure the magic in all weathers.

Following a largely underwhelming 2016, the question must be asked: what’s eating the one-time Wallaby match winner?

As for the ‘Tahs win over the Force I’ll leave the summing up to skipper Michael Hooper speaking post-match: “It was a pretty average game.“

Nuff said.