Conor O'Shea calls on Italy to show they belong in Six Nations
Conor O'Shea has challenged Italy to end the argument over RBS 6 Nations promotion and relegation as he bids to mastermind a revival among the Azzurri.
Former Harlequins coach O'Shea remains adamant that Italy fully merit their Six Nations status, despite continued calls from the likes of Georgia and Romania for a promotion-relegation play-off.
O'Shea ranks the upcoming Six Nations as a "pivotal time" in Italian rugby, as he aims to build on the maiden win over South Africa in November.
Vowing to add an abrasive edge to his Test side, O'Shea admitted he hopes to leave opponents hating taking on Italy.
"Italy have earned their right to be in the Six Nations, and if there are changes to the rules in years down the line that will be for other people to discuss," said O'Shea.
"Our job is to look after ourselves right now.
"If ever promotion and relegation were the case, who knows who would be at the bottom by the time that comes?
"If we get our system right and look after ourselves then we don't have to have those conversations.
"Italy has absolutely earned the right, god knows I played against enough Italian sides and was on the wrong end.
"We just have to make sure we harness what is great and make sure we don't have those conversations. Because Italy has earned every single right to be part of the Six Nations.
"We just want to earn people's respect this year, and see where that takes us."
O'Shea believes Italy's 20-18 autumn win over South Africa can represent the same kind of mental catalyst as Munster's famed win over the All Blacks in 1978.
"To me that win, it's massive," said O'Shea of the November victory over the Springboks.
"I'm fortunate I'm working in a country steeped in tradition, but we're very aware of its future.
"With my Irish hat on of Munster beating the All Blacks in 1978 is something that's always spoken about.
"While we know how much we have to learn, we showed the potential the team has if we play with that intensity and passion.
"The win over South Africa could be like that Munster win for us, but only if we make that the case.
"You give people something to cling on to, you give them hope, a match they can look at and realise it's not mythical.
"The heroes who did it are on the pitch, so they are there for people to look up to, that will inspire future generations.
"But all we want to do now is prepare to try to beat Wales.
"We want to get to the World Cup in 2019 and be in a pool where people say 'oh, I don't want to play Italy'.
"What I want from my players is just an unbelievable work ethic. You should never be afraid of that.
"The great Italian football teams were based on incredible defence, but with magic on top. You get that balance. And we need to be unbelievably difficult to play against.
"But then you need the magic on top that people like Sergio Parisse always offer."