Conor O’Shea will leave Harlequins this summer, paving the way for the former Ireland full-back to replace Jacques Brunel as Italy coach.
The Harlequins rugby director confirmed he will leave the Twickenham Stoop at the end of the season, after six years at the helm.
O’Shea guided Quins to their maiden Aviva Premiership title in 2012, while also scooping the European Challenge Cup and LV=Cup at the club.
Italy will confirm their new head coach after the RBS 6 Nations, with O’Shea now expected to succeed former Perpignan boss Brunel.
“I will have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute to this special club for over six years come May,” O’Shea said.
“I have enjoyed working with everybody at Harlequins, from the players to the staff to the supporters. Having said that, the end of this season is the right time for me to move on.”
Italy coach Brunel had initially been tipped to leave his post immediately following the 2015 World Cup, but has remained on board to see the Azzurri through the Six Nations.
That has allowed the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) to bide their time in the pursuit of O’Shea, their preferred candidate for the head coach’s role.
An Italy spokesman said: “We will announce the new head coach after the Six Nations,” reconfirming Brunel’s departure and opening the door for O’Shea.
O’Shea is keen to focus on Harlequins despite being first linked to the Italy job in March, with the London club lying third in the Premiership table.
“I don’t know what the next move is, I’ll see,” O’Shea told Sky Sports News. “There’ll be plenty of opportunities. I’ll make that decision as and when, and it may be made for me in many ways. Whether it’s Italy or not will be for them to consider, not for me.”
O’Shea has now set his sights on ending his Harlequins tenure with further silverware, with the club already through to the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
“We have a very talented group of players and coaches who are intent on securing silverware this season and that is my sole focus and where all our efforts are concentrated,” he said. “I will say my goodbyes when the season is over.”
Quins will immediately begin the process of replacing the former London Irish boss but the club’s chief executive, David Ellis, admits O’Shea will be a tough act to follow:
“Conor took over as director of rugby after a difficult period in our history. Under his leadership and through his determination, energy, and positive approach he has helped restore pride in our famous shirt and rejuvenated the playing style for which we are known. Conor will leave the club in a significantly better place than he found us and for that we are all grateful to him.”
Meanwhile George North is hoping for a little piece of history to repeat in the Six Nations. Wales have won the Six Nations and completed Grand Slams in the two most recent post-World Cup tournaments, in 2008 and 2012.
“History says Wales have got good results straight after a World Cup, so hopefully we can continue that,” said North.
Wales’s World Cup hopes were hampered by injuries, but they still advanced from a tough pool behind Australia and at the expense of England before exiting in the quarter-finals, with defeat to South Africa.
North feels the strength in depth was evident, standing Wales in good stead for the Six Nations.
“In our hour of need, the squad came through. When that first line of your starters gets injured and necessity kicked in, it showed, those boys really stepped up.”
North will be eager to make an impression with Wales’s RBS 6 Nations campaign beginning in Ireland on February 7.
He returns to Llanelli on Saturday determined to return to try-scoring form and to help Northampton Saints to victory and progress in the European Champions Cup.
The 23-year-old Wales wing has just two tries for Saints this season, on St Stephen’s Day versus London Irish and two weeks later against Leicester.
“It’s been unfortunate that I haven’t had the tries I’ve been hoping for,” North said. “This time last season I was knocking on double figures. It’s one of those things.
“The way we’re playing at the moment isn’t really helping. I’ve been looking at my game and being totally harsh on myself, [but], I’ve not been playing a bad brand of rugby, I’ve been playing all right, putting myself in the right areas and just not being used.
“I’m there to do a job and, if I can’t do that, it gets a bit annoying.”
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