As we all know by now, what Italy played on Saturday was not rugby. This came as a surprise to most of us, because we thought their game-plan was rooted in an intimate understanding of rugby. As always, though, Eddie Jones put us right, telling us that the laws of rugby don’t actually apply to real rugby, and that James Haskell showed himself to be an unquestionable player-of-rugby by not knowing them.
Sadly, Eddie stopped short of enlightening us as to what real rugby is, which really is a great tragedy. In fact, it means that we are now faced with a crisis that seems to threaten the Six Nations’ very existence. If a sport is not what its own laws say it is, then how on earth can we define it? How can the championship possibly continue, now that we know the rules on which it has always been based are actually wrong? This is a very urgent problem indeed, and one with which World Not-Rugby (as they must now be called) should occupy themselves immediately.
Perhaps Jones has all his career being playing a different sport to the rest of us, that simply looks and feels like rugby (at least, our version of it) most of the time. What might we call this excitingly subtle sport? Eddie-Ball? Ed-Balls, even? I would prefer to take some inspiration from our friends across the pond and call it Alt-Rugby. But this only poses another question: what is Alt-Rugby, and how do we play it? I am sure that those over at World Not-Rugby are reasonable fellows; if Eddie would only explain his rules, then I don’t doubt that they’d freely give up our own deeply flawed sport in exchange for his.
If this were to happen, however, I suspect that Eddie would rather keep the laws of Alt-Rugby to himself, preferring instead to drip-feed them one-by-one into the public domain. The main downside of this would be that he would have to officiate all matches himself, offering players riddle-like clues on a moment-by-moment basis as to whether they were in violation of his laws (that said, I hear Roman Poite might have some advice in talking players through rules mid-game). On the plus side, however, it would be fantastic for England since Hartley & Co. would surely be in cahoots with their coach, and for once might know more about the laws than their opponents.
This is all very silly, of course, and I am just being obtuse for comic effect. “Don’t be so ridiculous,” the sensible, chinoed Twickenham-goers will be droning, “Alt-Rugby is very obviously not a thing, and what Eddie clearly meant was that Italy’s tactics were not in the spirit of rugby.”
Right – now we’re on track. Rather than being “not rugby” in a literal sense, Italy’s play simply flew in the face of all the pristine, rugby-ish values that Eddie holds so dear. But what do these values involve? Presumably his vaguely-defined ethical code allows for deliberately instructing big Wallaby carriers to run at Jonny Wilkinson’s injured shoulder in the 2003 World Cup final; tacitly admitting to targeting Johnny Sexton as he returned from injury; patronising Wales as being a “principality who’ve “got goats, got daffodils”; and of course the comparison of Italy’s resourcefulness to an under-arm ball in cricket. “This is the kind of dignity we want in real rugby,” comes the cry from the tweed-blazered-hoard, “… whatever rugby actually is. But Italy using the laws to their advantage? Where is the decency?! Where is the respect?!”
This is all well and good, but you will want to hear Eddie’s justification for these unwavering values before being fully convinced. When asked about justification targeting Sexton, he simply responded “it’s all within the laws of the game.” Brilliant! How simple! How ingeniously straightforward!
Actually, hang on a second… we’re just back to the start now. Which laws would those be again?