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'We live in a sensationalist world' - Conor O'Shea says Italy are climbing

The Italy boss was left gutted in Rome, but remains proud of his players.

Murray Kinsella reports from Rome

BIZARRELY, CONOR O’SHEA and Italy captain Leonardo Ghiraldini were clapped into their post-match press conference by local journalists following their 26-16 defeat to Ireland.

The first question, asking for O’Shea’s opinion on referee Glen Jackson, included the journalist’s opinion that Italy had played against 16 men and that Jackson is “unfit” to adjudicate Test rugby.

Conor O’Shea dejected after the game O'Shea was left 'gutted' yesterday in Rome. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A strange opening, but after answering a number of questions in Italian, O’Shea’s first words in the English portion of the press conference underlined that he didn’t want to be applauded in defeat.

“We don’t like pats on the back,” said a visibly frustrated O’Shea. “Ireland are a team that we haven’t had a benchmark against.

“We felt we could properly begin to climb in terms of the level of performance that we’ve had in the first couple of games. We wanted to go out there and play, create a habit in terms of the intensity we play with.

“That’s the reason you see some errors from both sides because we’re trying to push the boundaries in the way we’re trying to play. We want to put pressure on Ireland.

“The average number of tackles that every team has had to make is 200 in the last six games against them, that’s the All Blacks and Italy – it doesn’t matter who plays them, you know it’s coming.

“So you know you have to do that. We’ll look at errors, we’ll look at things we can’t do well.”

This was O’Shea’s 13th consecutive defeat in the Six Nations since taking over in 2016 and Italy’s 20th in a row in the championship, but the Irishman said those figures are not a true reflection of the progress his team is making.

A 10-point margin in defeat against Ireland, an 11-point defeat to Wales and a 13-point disadvantage against Scotland this year – the Italians feel they have been more competitive than ever.

Their turnover attack and phase play shape have improved, as has their scramble defence, but issues like poor discipline remain.

Ian McKinley dejected after the game Ian McKinley after the final whistle in Rome. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“In the immediate world, it’s another stat, it’s another easy article for lazy people to write about Italy, if they want to,” said O’Shea. “But we’re a proud nation and, like Ireland in the ’90s, we’ll continue to build.

“I don’t give a hoot if it’s not with me, I just want to do what’s right for Italy, create good habits, a good structure. You can’t buy what I saw out on that pitch today. Do we not want the errors? Of course. Jacob Stockdale’s first try, you don’t give that away at international level, so they’re things we can control.

“We live in an immediate world, a sensationalist world. You have to understand that when you put your neck on the block like Leonardo Ghiraldini does every week, when you do what we do, that’s the world we live in – but it’s brilliant.

“You wouldn’t swap the week we’ve had, you wouldn’t swap training with the U20s on Monday and seeing what proper challenges are like. We have a privilege here, we have responsibility and we’ll keep on working.”

Some remain unconvinced that Italy have actually made progress and felt that Ireland’s struggles in Rome were wholly down to Joe Schmidt’s team and their own shortcomings.

Italy have two further chances in this Six Nations to disprove that theory, with a visit to England in two weekends’ time followed by a home tie against France, but it’s no surprise that O’Shea disagrees.

“It’s a discredit to our team to be just saying it was all Ireland,” said the Italy boss. “Did Ireland make mistakes? We’ll probably look at the kicks we missed.

“We have a lot of tough days and a big climb ahead, but we’re climbing.

“It’s a loss and we’re pretty gutted but we’ll keep on moving and we have an easy game in Twickenham next.”

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Murray Kinsella

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