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'People might laugh, but in a few years we'll be a very good team' -- Conor O'Shea

Italy’s head coach says his side have ‘a mountain to climb’ against his home nation this weekend.

Image: Adam Davy

ITALY HEAD COACH Conor O’Shea says his side have ‘a mountain to climb’ against Ireland, but Saturday’s clash with his home nation is just one step towards the team he hope the Azzurri will soon become.

The one-time Terenure schoolboy took charge of Italy last summer and guided the team to an almost instant November high as they defeated South Africa in Florence.

However, the subsequent loss to Tonga and Wales’ ability to pile on late points in Rome last weekend has brought expectations sharply back to earth.

Not for O’Shea though, who hopes follow Ireland’s path to improvement by changing attitudes in Italian rugby.

“Some people might laugh, some won’t agree with me, but in two or three years we will be a very good team,” the former Ireland international said as he named his team today.

“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.”

O’Shea is happy to admit that they are quite a distance behind Ireland on that path though. So, ahead of the clash with Ireland, the specific improvement he is looking for is in the way Italy exit their 22.

“We face a mountain to climb for 80 minutes, so I hope we’re ready for a big game this weekend.

“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.”

He added: ”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.”

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Sean Farrell

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