September 11, 2019 / 5:04 AM / 10 days ago

Rugby-O’Shea in it for the long haul with unfancied Italy

ROME, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Conor O’Shea’s results since taking the Italy job in March 2016 do not make for pleasant reading but speak to anyone involved in Italian rugby and they will have only good things to say about the Irishman.

O’Shea began the task of transforming the Azzurri’s fortunes after arriving on the back of a spell at Harlequins where he won Premiership and European Challenge Cup titles.

He made a huge early statement when he oversaw Italy’s first win over South Africa, a 20-18 victory in Florence in 2016, but has so far failed to record any such coups in the Six Nations.

Italy ended the 2019 edition propping up the table without a win for the fourth consecutive year, having racked up a record 22 defeats in a row in the competition.

But there have been positive signs along the way as the Irishman looks to build the foundations for long-term improvement in his adopted country.

“It can’t all be done overnight. But it will be done,” he told the Telegraph in January 2018.

“I’m determined to prepare Italy for a lasting future. And, yes, I know I’ll be judged on results. That’s sport.

“That’s the currency people trade in. And that’s right and proper. But there is not a simple and straightforward pathway to success. But we will get there.”

O’Shea has earned praise for maintaining a positive team morale in the face of adversity, while demonstrating forensic attention to detail in his efforts to get the best out of his squad.

He has been applauded for his influence on the improvement at club level, the fruits of which were on display last season when Benetton became the first Italian side to reach the Pro14 play-offs.

The former Ireland full-back has also transformed Italy’s style from the attritional rugby of the past to a quicker, more open game that suits a talented, pacey back division.

He has a trick up his sleeve, too; O’Shea famously instructed his side not to compete at rucks when Italy travelled to face England at Twickenham in 2017.

The tactic initially outfoxed the hosts, helping the Azzurri take a shock half-time lead before their resistance fell apart in the final 12 minutes.

Things are turning in the right direction under O’Shea’s leadership – now the question is whether he can mastermind another upset against South Africa in Japan, three years after the last one. (Editing by Peter Rutherford )

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