Sport Rugby

Monday 9 December 2019

O'Shea relishing Ireland's 'special' visit to Rome

Joe Schmidt talks with Italy boss Conor O’Shea. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt talks with Italy boss Conor O’Shea. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Conor O'Shea says he will do his best to leave emotion at the gates of the Stadio Olimpico when he leads his Italy side against Ireland for the first time.

The former Ireland full-back's full focus is on trying to make the Azzurri as competitive as possible for the tournament after an up and down November saw them hammered by New Zealand, beat South Africa and then lose to Tonga in successive weeks.

With Zebre and Treviso enduring difficult seasons, there is little optimism about the Italian campaign and O'Shea wasn't making any big promises at yesterday's Six Nations launch.

His main goal is to make the perennial strugglers as combative as possible as he looks to grow the game, and starting with successive home games against Wales and Ireland makes life a little easier as he looks to improved performances.

"Could I lie and say I haven't thought about it?" he said with a smile when asked about facing Ireland's Call in Rome.

"It will be special. My country, my home will always be Ireland, but my responsibility and my job lies with Italy and we'll try and prepare to make sure that we put out a side and put in a performance that, six days after Wales, will make us proud.

"First and foremost, we want to make sure that we focus absolutely 100pc on Wales, because the last couple of Six Nations games against them have been difficult. So we want to make sure we start to earn their respect back, and show that we're moving in the right direction. We'll look at Ireland then.

"I think back to the '70s and ' 80s, sitting at home on Saturdays spending the whole day watching the Five Nations, and then you're fortunate enough to play in it and then to have the honour of coaching Italy and trying to hopefully lead some change within the whole movement of a very special country.

"For the first time I've experienced just how proud and passionate these people are, and hopefully we can give them something over the next few weeks that will show we're on the right path."

Expectations of an Italian revival are not high and O'Shea is not ramping them up further.

"We can't fool you. We can't fool supporters. We're a team that is striving to work in the right direction, and if we do that then results will look after themselves," O'Shea said.

"I'm going to be very boring. I'm going to talk performance, performance, performance because we can't look at results, and we're just looking at making sure our short, medium and long-term goals are met."

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