Sunday 16 December 2018

Ireland do not see Italy as a threat, insists Conor O'Shea

Head coach Conor O'Shea during the Italy Rugby Captain's Run at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Head coach Conor O'Shea during the Italy Rugby Captain's Run at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Tom Cary

Conor O’Shea is looking forward to the day when Joe Schmidt refuses to speak to him. Italy’s head coach – back in his native Ireland for a Six Nations match which, if the form book is anything to go by, promises to be brutally one-sided – says he is likely to be having a coffee with Schmidt on Monday, once the dust has settled on Saturday’s showdown at the Aviva Stadium.

“We said we would meet for a chat and he can tell me what weaknesses they were looking to exploit and we’ll try to learn from him,”  explained O’Shea, who described Schmidt as the “the best coach in world rugby in my opinion bar none” earlier this week.

O’Shea added: “Until we’re a threat, they’ll talk to us. When we’re a threat, they’ll probably stop talking to us. These guys have more [international] experience than I have and the Six Nations is different. The intensity and scrutiny. The physicality. It’s not like a summer Test.”

The bald statistics tell the truth of that statement. O’Shea has led Italy to wins over Canada, Fiji, the US and South Africa since taking over in the summer of 2016. But he has lost his other 14 Test matches in charge, including that 46-15 defeat by England in Rome last weekend.

Italy have had one day less to prepare for the game than Ireland, too – something Schmidt is never shy to point out when it is the other way around – while their record against the men in green in recent seasons has been poor. Ireland have scored nine tries against the Azzurri in each of their last two wins.

“I want them to go out and play the best game they can and what will happen, will happen,” O’Shea said of his team’s prospects. “If Ireland play to their potential and we play to ours, Ireland win. Full stop.

“We aren’t as fit as we need to be at this level. We’re miles fitter than we were. But we need to get to a  different level of fitness.

“We have to learn the mentality required to win, as the Irish players have learned.”

O’Shea is missing Leonardo Sarto, Marco Fuser and Angelo Esposito, but the former Harlequins director of rugby is adamant those stepping into the breach are of a higher calibre than ever before.

A wet forecast in Dublin is likely to mean a greasy ball, but Ireland will not be looking to stuff it up their jumpers. After failing to find the try line in Paris last weekend – when a late Johnny Sexton dropped goal got them out of jail – Schmidt is desperate for his team to play at tempo, to recycle the ball much more quickly than against France. And to score tries.

England cut Italy to pieces in the final quarter of last weekend’s game. And Ireland’s bench looks well capable of doing the same, with Jordan Larmour –  Leinster’s exciting teenage prospect – expected to finally make his international debut.

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