Italy will be contenders in three years, says Conor O’Shea

Conor O’Shea expects mutterings of mirth but still remains convinced Italy will boast a “very good team” inside three years.

The former Ireland full-back has admitted the Azzurri have a “mountain to climb” to pull off an RBS 6 Nations victory over Joe Schmidt’s side in Rome tomorrow.

Head coach O’Shea believes he can shake off the oddity of preparing a Test team to face Ireland, then insisted last weekend’s 33-7 loss to Wales does not represent a return to struggling form for the Italians.

“Some people might laugh, some won’t agree with me, but in two or three years we will be a very good team,” said O’Shea, who won 35 caps for Ireland between 1993 and 2000.

“It would be easy to look at last week’s result and say, ‘It’s the same old Italy’: I can guarantee that it is not. Changing the mindset has to be our goal in the short term. I am sure the group has the right potential for the future, but we have to change attitudes and improve our play.

“Through tough times and good times we have to gain experience. Ireland had some hard years, but they believed in a long-term project and are reaping the benefits. We are taking the same path. Ireland is my home, my family, it’s the place where we spend the holidays. It’s the country where I grew up and where I always wanted to play.

“But now my only objective is Italian rugby. So I don’t think of Ireland but only of us, Italy. We face a mountain to climb for 80 minutes, so I hope we’re ready for a big game this weekend.”

Talismanic Italy captain Sergio Parisse has been passed fit to face Ireland at the Stadio Olimpico tomorrow after suffering a neck problem in last weekend’s Wales defeat. New Italy boss O’Shea lamented perceived refereeing inequalities against the Welsh, demanding the Azzurri be “refereed on a level playing field”.

Now the former Harlequins coach has revealed his satisfaction after dealing with World Rugby’s referees bosses this week.

“We sent our report to the arbitration managers of World Rugby and are pleased with the feedback we have had,” said O’Shea.

“We need now to focus on what we can control, the details that make the difference.

“Discipline and attention to detail, particularly in the exits from our 22. We suffered here against Wales. It’s something we can control and therefore improve.

“It’s those little moments that change the energy of a match.”

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