Defence coach John Mitchell warns England to beware Italy’s tactics

England are expecting Italy to lay another tactical trap at Twickenham on Saturday but the defence coach, John Mitchell, has urged Conor O’Shea’s side to “come with something positive” after the no-ruck ploy used two years ago was outlawed.

Italy gave England an almighty scare in 2017 and led 10-5 at half-time with Eddie Jones’s side bamboozled by the plan hatched by Brendan Venter and dubbed “the Fox”. Italy’s tactic of not contesting rucks – thereby ensuring no offside line and allowing their defenders to stand in between England’s scrum‑half and his receivers – has since been made illegal by World Rugby, much to O’Shea’s disappointment.

Jones was furious after the match, insisting: “That’s not rugby. If you paid for your ticket, ask for your money back,” while George Ford claimed Italy’s tactics “could kill the game”. Mitchell, however, still expects Italy – without a win in 20 Six Nations matches – to come armed with a ploy designed to unsettle England. “They’ll come with something. There is no doubt about that. Let’s hope they come with something positive,” he said.

“You want to be tested in various aspects of your game. There’s a big tournament down the road and we haven’t got too many minutes left before then so we have got to adapt to different challenges that come, and whatever comes next weekend we have got to be ready for.

“One of the things that sticks in the mind is: expect the unexpected. That creates a challenge to be alert and to understand the implications of what that unexpected might be and make sure that we can prepare as well as we can for those unexpected situations that might come.”

Two years ago Ben Youngs was among the replacements, coming on for Danny Care after 51 minutes and steering England to a 36-15 win in an improved second half. England were still criticised for how long it took them to adapt to Italy’s surprise tactic – a failing under the microscope again following the defeat by Wales in Cardiff.

“It is something we already discussed and with coaches like Conor and [Mike Catt] they’ve got coaches not afraid to try different things,” Youngs said. “If there is something that teams haven’t seen before, I’d say they were the type of coaches who could come up with something.

“On reflection back to [Cardiff], was there an opportunity to adapt or change? Yes, potentially, but at the time we felt there was an opportunity and that the momentum would change and we’d be able to get field position and be able to go. It just didn’t quite happen.”