O'Shea approach will benefit Italians
In one way I'll have a special interest in the Italian team today after spending six weeks working with them as their liaison officer at the 2015 World Cup.
Gemma Crowley, who worked with our women's team at the World Cup, went on to be team services' manager for the men's 2015 World Cup committee and was in charge of Ireland's pool.
Someone pulled out very late, I was on a career break from teaching at the time and got an interview for the role.
I was the link between the local organisers and the Italian team. My job was all about logistics, doing everything like organising food/transport and lots more.
They introduced me to espressos and there were lots of long days when I needed them. Jacques Brunel was their coach.
Maybe it was the language barrier but I didn't exactly warm to him. I had more dealings with their management team and players.
They didn't know initially that I was an ex-international but, once they found out, we had great chats and they valued my input.
During that World Cup there were rumours linking Conor O'Shea with the Italian job.
Although these were quickly quashed by O'Shea, it struck me how excited they were about the possibility. Being the Irish link, I was getting constant interrogations about his coaching credentials.
That World Cup didn't go as they planned. Their best performance was definitely against Ireland and, no coincidence, that was the only game that Sergio Parisse played in.
An injury meant he only arrived midway through the tournament. The difference in the camp when Parisse arrived was immediate. He demands standards of himself and that raises the standards of other around him.
He's extremely passionate about Italian rugby but, off the pitch, is really endearing, quite laid-back and this atmosphere pervades the Italian set-up. Family is very important to the Italian squad. After every match the meal would have included any family members that had travelled to England, part of a positive culture.
The fact Parisse will play until Japan 2019 highlights how much he rates O'Shea as a coach and Italy's potential. It is now O'Shea's job to find and develop talent that might match Parisse's skill and ambition. Carl Canna, their number ten, plucked from obscurity for that World Cup, should further develop under O'Shea.
The impression you get from O'Shea is that he really gets to know and understand his players and empowers them to believe in themselves.
When Pat Lam went to Connacht he got out to every little small town, got to know what they stood for - their identity - and I've no doubt O'Shea has done similar.
Italy kind of remind me of the Irish women's team when I first started playing; their structures are quite poor underneath the senior team.
What I hadn't realised until then was that they don't play much schools' rugby. Their clubs and academy are a bit sporadic and it's only played in specific regions.
They can do things like beat South Africa one week and lose to Tonga the next week. They often lose form and discipline towards the end of matches, primarily due to lack of squad depth.
What's really interesting is Steve Aboud's appointment as Italy's technical director. He's doing a 'root and branch' review of their structures and development pathways for players/coaches. Aboud played a huge part in our women's national team success. He's challenging but very positive.
With Aboud's technical expertise and O'Shea's coaching ability, Italy's future looks bright but the benefits might not be seen for a few years.