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O'Shea needs Italy to begin delivering his big plan

By Michael Sadlier

The problem with long-termism is that, at some point, substantial signs of progress just have to be seen.

Without that, all the rhetoric sounds hollow and becomes counter-productive.

Conor O'Shea has invested heavily in talking about the future and changing everything within Italian rugby and that's the worry.

It's all very admirable, of course, but there is little else the former Director of Rugby at Harlequins can really say when it comes to fronting up for the current Italian squad.

The former Ireland full-back this week alluded to his time as an international in the grim 1990s when, interestingly enough, the Irish side were hopelessly inconsistent.

It gave him a useful analogy to outline where Italy have found themselves for so long.

O'Shea's argument is that only with time and the right internal reform were Ireland able to turn things around and, so the logic goes, the same will ultimately be the way with Italy.

And a perfect example of the uphill battle O'Shea faces was seen last autumn when just after taking the scalp of the struggling Springboks, Italy then lost to Tonga.

Indeed, it's undoubtedly going to be an even more mammoth task than the one that faced Ireland back in the horrible 1990s.

O'Shea is not the first person to try and turn things around for the misfiring Azzurri but, in fairness, the Irishman is as adequately equipped as anyone to use his renowned resources of energy and enthusiasm to achieve real change.

He has been talked up by Joe Schmidt, who, when not obsessing about late buses, has put it out there that O'Shea, during his time at Harlequins, got to observe some Irish training sessions back in 2015.

Not that anyone really buys into Italy repeating what they managed in 2013 when pulling off a shock win in the final throw of the dice during Declan Kidney's time at the helm.

Even with Sergio Parisse in the side - though the actual fitness of their talismanic skipper is up for debate - Italy face an intimidating task after so notably failing in the crucial first-up game to halt a less than inspiring Wales in Rome.

The old familiar failings undid them and O'Shea sounded pretty much like his lengthy line of under-achieving predecessors when he complained afterwards about how Italy are not fairly refereed.

Hardly the stuff to inspire the squad heading into today's second straight home game which is a vital one if Italy are to have any grounds for optimism going forward in the Championship.

So, O'Shea and his assistants Mike Catt and Brendan Venter will have devised a plan but the chances of Italy delivering an 80-minute performance to derail even a misfiring Ireland still look far too slim.

A clue as to the Azzurri's intentions is that their three changes are all up front with hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, second row Andries Van Schalkwyk and flanker Simone Favaro all in the starting side.

Disrupting Ireland with extra physicality seems to be the plan, as opposed to Scotland's investment in width and trickery.

It's hard to bank on anything other than more O'Shea reflections on the years to come being aired later today.

Belfast Telegraph


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