Sunday 23 July 2017

O'Shea demands 'level playing field' from officials

Italy manager Conor O'Shea. Photo: Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi
Italy manager Conor O'Shea. Photo: Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi

Andrew Baldock

Conor O'Shea says he wants to see Italy "refereed on a level playing field" after their Six Nations campaign began with a 33-7 home defeat against Wales.

The former Ireland international and Harlequins boss, now Italy's coaching director, struggled to mask his frustration after Wales cut loose in the second-half to score 30 unanswered points.

Of as much concern to the Irishman was a 16-5 penalty count against his team, and he feels the Azzurri need to change what he believes is a perception about them - with a clash against Ireland in Rome next Saturday next up.

"Rugby is a roller-coaster," said O'Shea, who made no specific mention of match referee JP Doyle.

"Energy comes in different ways in games, and we've a big challenge to change a lot of our mentality and to understand that things do go against you. We lost our discipline in the second-half.

"The energy being given the whole time to Wales meant it was very difficult for our team to stay on task as they did in the first-half, when they were magnificent at times.

"We have to change perception because we need to make sure both red and blue are looked at in exactly the same way. We know that Wales were the better side in the end, but I thought we were better in the first-half.

"We have to make sure we change the perception of people who look at us, so we are refereed on a level playing field. The energy that is driven away and towards an opposition is huge when it is 16-5 (penalty count).

"We have a huge, huge challenge. I want to make sure we are looked on the same as others, and then we will be fine.

"Our defence in the first-half was amazing, so there is lots to be positive about, but we can't lose a penalty count 16-5 and win matches.

"We will look at ourselves first. It's our fault. We will look at what we control, not anyone else, but human nature is human nature and we have to change a perception that people have, not today, but all the time."

Despite a fourth win in succession under interim head coach Rob Howley, Wales will need a considerable improvement to threaten next Saturday's opponents England.

Tries during the final quarter from Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and George North saw them home and Leigh Halfpenny kicked 18 points as Wales reeled off an 11th successive victory over the Azzurri, who struck first with an Edoardo Gori try that fly-half Carlo Canna converted.

Howley said: "Momentum is important in the Six Nations.

"Italy are coached by three fantastic coaches and we knew how difficult it would be. The conditions made it even tougher and we are pleased, but we will move on quickly and focus on the next one."

Howley confirmed that fly-half Dan Biggar took a blow to his ribs - he was replaced at half-time by Sam Davies - while North has a haematoma on his thigh, although he shrugged off the pain to score a late long-range try.

"It's important we start competitions well," Howley added. "We haven't done so since four years ago, really. We can go into the next game with a bit more self-belief and confidence."

"We will have to put England under more pressure than we did against Italy, so that is going to be the challenge.

"Our team were disciplined. We trusted our systems, particularly in defence.

"I thought Sam Warburton was outstanding today. I thought he carried well and applied pressure over the ball. We had some key turnovers."

Irish Independent

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