Dylan Hartley is considering swapping the Bible for rugby’s law book after accepting responsibility for England’s slow reaction to Italy’s tactics at Twickenham on Sunday.
The Red Rose’s Grand Slam defence remains intact after they emerged conclusive 36-15 winners, but the Azzurri’s controversial strategy of refusing to engage in rucks has sparked a global debate within the game.
Eddie Jones has called for World Rugby to change the breakdown laws, saying “If that’s rugby, I’m going to retire”, but the Australian’s fury has also served to camouflage the shortcomings of his team.
It took them until the second half to adapt to the ploy, while senior players appeared to demonstrate an incomplete grasp of the laws during conversations with referee Romain Poite.
When asked if he would study the law book in the wake of Sunday’s events at Twickenham, England captain Hartley said: “Of course I will. I have. I think we all know that law now. We’re all pretty clear on that.
England were flustered by Italy’s tactics at Twickenham. Ashley Western – CameraSport via Getty Images
“I looked in my room [at the squad's Surrey training base] and there’s a Bible next to the bed. I should probably replace that. For me it’s a good lesson to brush up on the laws and know my stuff.
“I’ll brush up by reading the book and talking to coaches. I don’t actually possess a book — maybe I should get one? I’m brushed up.”
Hartley admits he was to blame for the time it took England to adjust to tactics that have been used before at club and international level, but never in such wholesale fashion.
“That was a Test match and it was a test that we passed. But we have looked at scenarios where if it happens again we can react more quickly. That is my biggest learning,” he said.
“Hindsight is wonderful and if I could go back I would have seen what was happening earlier and dealt with it earlier. But it’s a learning, it won’t happen again.
“It took too long in the first half and that’s my fault. I was trying to figure out what was happening. I was confused.
“Sometimes I saw one or two blue shirts in a ruck, thought it was a ruck but it wasn’t until I saw [scrum-half] Edoardo Gori standing in our passing channel [that I realised what was happening].”
The Northampton hooker continued: “I was in just about every breakdown. I was in the thick of it, basically. I could see… It was a surprise tactic and it had full effect.
“I was confused as to what was going on, so I questioned the ref. The ref wasn’t going to change his mind.
“I couldn’t change his mind. So I just rolled with it and we found way to play around it.
Nicknamed “The Fox” and the brainchild of Brendan Venter, Italy’s tactic of not contesting the breakdown caused mayhem at Twickenham. But the ploy was almost killed off 24 hours before kick-off.
Sir Clive Woodward has called for the anti-rucking law to be changed while World Rugby boss Bill Beaumont will meet referees’ manager Alain Rolland to discuss the ruckless tactic.
Forwards coach Steve Borthwick insists England will be a better team for the experience of facing Italy’s controversial tactics at Twickenham on Sunday.
“It’s been addressed. The scenario is covered. We have learned from it. And if it happens again we will be well tooled-up to deal with it.”
England resume their Six Nations title defence against Scotland on Saturday week, when they will be seeking an 18th successive Test victory which would equal the world record set by New Zealand.
It took late surges to dispatch France and Wales earlier in the competition, but Hartley bristles when it is suggested the champions have been unconvincing.
“From where I’m sat, I’m part of a winning team and we’re getting better every week,” the 30-year-old said. “We’re winning games. What more do you want?
“We’re fit, we execute the late stages of the game, and other teams can’t compete with that – that’s why we’ve won games. That’s not luck. It’s because we work hard.
“We could have lost to Wales and France, but we didn’t. We trained hard with a 23-man squad that we back to win games. And we’re not playing against mugs.
“I remember at the start of this tournament everyone was saying this is the most open tournament there’s ever been.
“If we’ve won three games from three, we’re in a pretty good place in an open tournament, aren’t we? That’s not luck. We’ve earned that.
“You bump into people who say, ‘You just got through at the weekend’, or ‘You were lucky at the weekend’. I want to abolish luck.
“It was not luck. You make your own luck by training bloody hard in the week.”
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