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O'Shea 'never had discussions' with Irish rugby as he moves on to RFU role

The 49-year-old has joined the English union as its new performance director.

Updated Nov 29th 2019, 8:39 AM

THE LAST DAYS of Conor O’Shea’s Italy reign were tough to take.

A cancelled World Cup clash against the All Blacks, retiring players in tears, the World Cup over after playing just three games. It was not the finale the Irishman had hoped for with the Azzurri.

49-year-old O’Shea could have continued into the 2020 Six Nations in his position as Italy head coach but – having joined back in 2016 and worked hard to improve the state of the national team and all levels of Italian rugby – he felt the time was right to move on and resigned six months before the end of his contract.

conor-oshea Conor O’Shea was speaking at the launch of the N-Pro headguard. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Shea only left Italy last Wednesday but he has already enjoyed some of the benefits of being outside the relentless nature of working in rugby.

“Last week, I got to my daughter’s birthday for the first time in four years,” said O’Shea yesterday in Dublin. “There are things you miss.”

O’Shea insisted several times yesterday at a promotional event that he had not yet committed to a new job, but the RFU announced this morning that he will join the English union as its new performance director.

O’Shea previously worked with the RFU from 2005 until 2008 as the union’s director of regional academies before joining Harlequins and leading them to the 2012 Premiership title.

O’Shea did say yesterday that he was looking forward to stepping away from head coaching.

“I think a broader position would be my pathway at the moment,” said the former Ireland international.

“It’s nigh on 10 years with Quins and Italy. Your emotional state is driven by a result at the weekend and there’s some great times in that and some tough times in that, winning things and losing things.

“My wife and kids would deserve that if I go to a match, I’m not there chewing over the match for 10 days and our mood is dependent on the game.”

conor-oshea O'Shea resigned from the Italy job six months before the end of his contract. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Interestingly, O’Shea said he hadn’t heard from anyone within Irish rugby in recent times about a possible position here. Given his desire to take up a management role, some will wonder if O’Shea could have offered something to the Irish system.

“I’ve never had any discussions,” said O’Shea. “I think more people know what I’m doing with my life than I do at the moment but we’ll just see what happens in the coming weeks.

“I just thought it was the right time to leave Italy and give the system there a fresh voice. I just hope the team can tip over the edge and win a game in this year’s Six Nations.”

O’Shea stresses the quality of the younger players in Italy’s system as he suggests they can improve in the future, with South African coach Franco Smith having been appointed as O’Shea’s successor.

While he won’t be coming back into the Irish system himself, O’Shea is equally as enthusiastic about Ireland’s future under Andy Farrell even after their own World Cup disappointment.

“You look at the provinces – they are winning, by and large, every weekend,” said O’Shea. “So that goes into a camp. They know how to win, they’ve got a history of trophies. You look at Leinster and the young guys.

“People like Ronan Kelleher, look at what he has done now from the start of the season, so there are players putting their hands up and putting pressure on so. Jack [Conan] gets a bad injury and Max Deegan goes in and has been playing brilliantly at number eight.

“You look at the age profile of James Ryan. Jacob Stockdale’s try-saving tackle in that first game against Bath. Joey Carbery will come back and put pressure on. There’s a lot of good players, a lot of good players! Johnny Cooney missed out on the World Cup and is obviously playing brilliantly.

“So when you have that depth of competition and look at the Irish provinces compared to the Welsh provinces at the minute. Scotland are very reliant on a couple of players.

england-v-italy-guinness-six-nations-twickenham-stadium O'Shea has moved on from his role with Italy. Source: Adam Davy

“I know you have to dissect everything and analyse it but sometimes you can over-analyse things. You just say, the World Cup didn’t go the way they wanted. They won’t get another opportunity for four years to right that so all they can do is look at the next game that is in front of them and win those next games.

“Then the euphoria and everything will start building again and we’ll say ‘Okay, is this going to…’ I’m sure it’ll be the big weight going into the next World Cup in France because we’ll be talking about it from two years out.

“From the minute the draw is made, everyone will be plotting it and the route, looking at who we play.

“It’ll be a fascinating next few years to watch how the Irish team evolves.”

O’Shea’s future may well lie with the RFU but he will be watching his native country as closely as he did throughout his “incredible” time with Italy.

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- This article was updated at 8.39am to reflect the fact that the RFU has now announced Conor O’Shea as its new performance director. O’Shea denied that he had a new job with the RFU job lined up several times during yesterday’s promotional event. 

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Murray Kinsella

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