On the day when England beat New Zealand to qualify for the Rugby World Cup final, the English RFU began preparations for the 2023 staging in in France by appointing Conor O’Shea, former Irish international and current Italy head coach, to take up a senior position in their professional rugby department.
ven as the England players were on Saturday celebrating their stunning 19-7 World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand in Yokohama, it is understood that English RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney was in the advanced stages of planning the next four-year cycle by reaching an agreement with Limerick-born O’Shea to join the governing body.
The appointment, as exclusively revealed by The Telegraph, has been described as a "major statement of intent" by Sweeney, given O’Shea’s wide experience of operating on the international stage.
O’Shea also boasts considerable experience in the Premiership, having guided Harlequins to the league title when he was director of rugby in 2012.His inside knowledge of English domestic rugby is also likely to improve relations between the RFU and the Premiership clubs.
"This is a big statement of intent by Bill Sweeney," said a senior source. "Conor has done brilliant work in developing the game in Italy over the last four years and also comes with a great reputation from his time working in the Premiership.
"He knows the Premiership inside out and that knowledge will be important in overseeing the development of the next generation of players in the next four years.
O’Shea, who won 35 caps for Ireland as a full-back between 1993 and 2000 before his career was cut short by an ankle injury.
He coached at London Irish between 2001 and 2005, before joining Harlequins in 2010.
The former Leinster and London Irish player then took over as Italy head coach in 2016.