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'It's just weird': Even Ireland were miffed by uncontested scrums

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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What unfolded in Dublin on Sunday did little for rugby as a spectacle, practically a full hour of the Ireland versus Italy Guinness Six Nations match getting played with the ugliness of uncontested scrums – a situation that naturally was the hot topic post-game for the respective bosses, Kieran Cowley and Andy Farrell.  

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Italy boss Crowley admitted he had no other choice but to sacrifice a back row player without replacement after his team had lost its starting hooker to injury and their replacement hooker to a red card inside the opening 20 minutes. 

It’s a matter he now wants the authorities to discuss as it ruined the round three championship match that ended 57-6 in favour of Ireland. Yet, it wasn’t as if Irish boss Farrell was happy either that the fixture had taken this bizarre turn for the worst because of the game-ending injury to Gianmarco Lucchesi and the red card for Hame Faiva which led to No8 Toa Halafihi being sacrificed and Italy going down to 13 players just 21 minutes in.    

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You have imagined that the generous numerical advantage would have been meat and drink to Ireland but the lack of contested scrums alternatively meant that Italy forwards had more energy to get around the park and this, according to Farrell, pegged their momentum and resulted in some scratchy periods in the game which hindered their attack. 

“There is plenty we can take away from it,” said the Ireland coach in the aftermath of their 51-point winning margin at Aviva Stadium. “Obviously, there are not many times that we have played a Test match against twelve players but there is plenty we can take away from it. 

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“The start of the game, getting off to a good start and going up seven points, is a nice enough start and then I thought we started to overplay a little bit. Italy defended really well and they were aggressive in defence before they went down to 13. They were certainly aggressive at the breakdown and I thought because of our lack of accuracy and the tenaciousness of their defence, there were a few errors that we could have tidied up before the situation happened with 13 men.

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Then we get to that point of 13 men, it is just weird. We understand why the rule was brought in but at the same time I suppose in situations like that, occasions like that, it will bring the rule back to everyone’s attention and they will look at it. From my point of view, and from what we all saw, it was uncontested scrums and Italy were trying to slow the game down like everyone would have done.

“When you have got uncontested scrums for so long within the game everyone’s legs are nice and fresh, which is the reason why Italy were tenacious in defence throughout – even when they went to twelve men. It’s just weird. The space that you think is there, they are throwing caution to the wind with kamikaze-style defence at times where they were flying up off the line and hitting us man-and-ball and putting our skills under pressure.

“We needed to be calmer, more accurate. In the second half, we hit a few more front doors rather than throwing it out the back and got some quick ball and managed to get some much-needed points in the end.”

What was Azzurri boss Crowley’s reaction to the nine-try beating where his team conceded one try when they had 15 players, six when they had 13 and another two when they were reduced to just twelve players following a late yellow card? “On the teamsheet, you must name two hookers, two loosehead props and two tighthead props,” he explained.

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“When you then lose two hookers I was not prepared to go put a prop who hadn’t been a hooker before into that position. There was two (hookers) identified on the teamsheet and unfortunately, Lucchesi got his elbow dislocated and then there was the red card.   

“They are the rugby rules and this rule was brought in a few years ago. I think it was France, I might be wrong, they were trying to depower scrums so the rule came in that if you have a red card in the front row you must replace them and then if you have an injury and you can’t replace someone in the front row then you must take off another person, so yes we had to go down to 13. It was something we had no control over on the rules and they have to look at that.”

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