Italian players celebrate beating France at the Olympic
stadium in Rome. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
As the southern hemisphere gears up for this year's Super
Rugby competition, on the other side of the world the Six
Nations kicked off at the weekend. ODT Online rugby contributor
Jeff Cheshire looks at what lessons were learned from the
Italy are capable of beating anyone
A change in coaching has done wonders for Italy, completely
changing their mindset and game plan. In years gone by there
was a feeling that they were playing to lose by as little as
possible, rather han to actually win games. They would rarely
move the ball wide, putting an emphasis on set piece, forward
play and kicking.
The team that has been on show over the past four months has
been far from this. They have adopted an expansive game that
has seen them give the ball width, looking to put their
players into gaps and keep the ball alive in contact.
They have adopted a strategy similar to that of the All
Blacks, setting targets either close in or outside of the
first five-eighth, before moving the ball and looking to
attack through the midfield.
Their support play enables them to keep the ball alive and in
general they look to play an up-tempo game. On defence too
they look similar to the New Zealanders, fanning out and not
committing to the breakdown unless it is on to do so.
Using these tactics they delivered some convincing
performances in November, but have shown their true worth
with an outstanding win over pre-tournament favourites
France. They are certainly capable of beating any team on
their day if they play to their potential.
However, whether or not they can play at such a high level
consistently remains to be seen. They still have a long way
to go, but they are heading in the right direction and have
come light years in the past 12 months.
Running rugby is alive in Europe
Ireland players tackle Wales' Scott Williams during their
match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. REUTERS/Rebecca
It's not just Italy who are looking to play a more
positive game. It was evident that the other teams are
beginning to want to use the ball more too.
Wales and Ireland both showed flair in the competition
opener, with Ireland in particular looking good running the
ball in the first half. England too looked good attacking
through the midfield, while Scotland at times showed they
could do it, more on that later.
Consequently, the skill level is improving and it seems the
teams are beginning to learn when to play expansively too.
There were still cases where bad passes were thrown, balls
were dropped and reckless play was seen, but this is only to
be expected. The encouraging thing is they are improving and
heading in the right direction, which can only be good for
Indeed it was Carwyn James' 1971 British and Irish Lions team
that many credit to showing the world, or New Zealand at
least, how to counterattack and play an expansive form of
A skilful midfield of Mike Gibson and John Dawes, flying
wingers Gerald Davies, David Duckham, John Bevan and J.J.
Williams with the impeccable J.P.R. Williams at the back were
as good as any at playing the running game. Gareth Edwards
provided the service for this team, with the likes of Barry
John and Phil Bennett calling the shots in the No 10 jersey.
As the years progressed they began to take a more
conservative approach to the point where the lack of flair in
the Six Nations became something of a joke amongst the
Southern Hemisphere nations.
But as history shows us, they are capable of playing this
form of rugby. If they can rediscover the ability to do it
effectively the gap between the two hemispheres will indeed
close in the coming years.
Scotland need to get Sean Maitland more involved
Scotland's Sean Maitland runs at the English defence during
their match at Twickenham in London. (Photo by Tom
Not long ago Sean Maitland was a potential All Black. But
a move north has seen one of the world's most dangerous wingers
donning a Scotland uniform, qualifying through a grandparent
being born in Scotland.
The weekend saw him make his test debut, playing on the wing
against England in a game Scotland never looked like winning.
His performance was hard to judge. He didn't do a lot. But
neither was he given many chances. It's all very well saying
a winger needs to go looking for work, but the rest of his
team has a responsibility to get him into space. And they
weren't doing this.
The Scotland mentality seems to be to let the forwards take
it up, playing a tight game where going wide seems something
of a last resort. Yet when they did let their outside backs
attack they looked good.
Maitland in particular only featured prominently twice in the
game, each of which resulted in Scotland tries. These were
the only two tries Scotland scored, and indeed were the only
two times Scotland looked like scoring tries.
Putting two and two together, Maitland needs to see more
Owen Farrell is the real deal
There was much criticism when Owen Farrell was nominated for
the 2012 IRB Player of the Year Award. And it was probably
warranted, Farrell had after all done little at the
international level at the time of the nominations.
England's Owen Farrell kicks a penalty against Scotland at
Twickenham. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
He followed up with an outstanding performance against
the All Blacks just days later, showing just why many rate him
Some put this down to a one-off. But his performance against
Scotland in the weekend was just as good and it's becoming
clear there is something special about this kid.
As would be expected from an English first five-eighth, his
kicking is of the highest class. It seems he just doesn't
miss, or rarely misses at any rate.
But there is more to him than this. He is a competent runner
and is capable of throwing some outstanding passes. Along
with this, he is getting the best out of a backline that has
stumbled for the past few years.
To top it all off, he is just 21 years old and will only get
It can be dangerous rating players so early in their career.
But if what we've seen so far is anything to go by, Owen
Farrell is going to be a very good player for a very long
Body position is crucial
This may seem like an obvious one, but it seemed to slip the
minds of the Welsh players in their match against Ireland.
Mistakes that are stamped out of every rugby player from the
age they begin playing were being made by this Wales team and
ultimately it lost them the game.
They were simply too high going into contact and left the
ball too exposed. This is a recipe for disaster against any
opposition, but even more so against Ireland who have shown
themselves proficient at holding up their opposition to cause
From this Wales lost far too much possession and prevented
themselves from getting into any flow, particularly in the
first half. It was the winning and losing of the game.
So take notice kids, and in this case adults, namely Wales.
Stay low going into contact, protect the ball and lead with
the shoulder you aren't carrying the ball with. Such a basic
skill, but one that can have a large impact if not performed