Adam Hathaway catches up with the Italian head coach Conor O’Shea, gets a lesson in positive thinking and hopes someone making their Twickenham debut next Saturday is not put off by the experience.
On Thursday at the Lensbury in Teddington, where Italy were staying ahead of their game against England, it seemed like there was a classic turkeys voting for Christmas situation going on.
Conor O’Shea, the brilliantly loquacious head coach of the Azzurri and a top man, is the sort of bloke who could sell snow to the Eskimos and convince you the Moon is made of green cheese.
He is also the sort of bloke who could take the positives out of a 57-14 defeat as he did in the aftermath of England¹s win over his side on Saturday at Twickenham. Fair play to him for that, you are never short of a quote when Conor is in town.
And O¹Shea knows the game.
The 48-year-old won 35 Ireland caps as a full-back between 1993 and 2000 and he was brought over to England by Clive Woodward to play for London Irish in 1995 as what Woodward described as his 5 star signing”.
O¹Shea has worked for the RFU, that takes some doing, and coached Harlequins to the Premiership title in 2012 ¬ so he has been around the block. If he told a team who were 93-0 and three men down at half-time they could win, they would probably believe him.
And true to form he was upbeat in Teddington when he was asked about the possibility of a World League, with promotion and relegation involved, which has been bandied about for the last couple of weeks.
There is a meeting in Dublin shortly about the whole fiasco but Italy would be one of the obvious fall-guys to end up in the second tier as they are currently ranked 14th in the world below the likes of Tonga, Georgia and Fiji.
His boss at the Italian Federation might not like to read what O¹Shea had to say but you can only admire the Irishman’s gung-ho attitude when his side were about to slide to their 21st Six Nations defeat on the spin.
If he had kicked the whole thing into touch you would have said “fair enough” but O’Shea being O’Shea he put a positive spin on it.
Maybe Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn should give him a call, Alastair Campbell has got nothing on him.
When he speaks you had better make sure your shorthand is about 700 words per minute and you had better make sure you have new batteries in your Dictaphone because most of what he says is worth listening too.
He covered all the bases, number of matches, increasing rugby¹s popularity and the rest and maybe a stint in division two of a new league is just the kick up the backside that Italian rugby needs.
“I think it¹s quite exciting from what I’ve seen. I’ve just seen the video, I’ve had no input into it whatsoever but on the face of it this seems like a really exciting proposal,” he told us.
“The one thing we need to do is to grow the game. If we just have the couple of rich kids winning everything we don’t have a game. That’s at club level and international level. We need to protect and grow the game. I love the game of rugby”
“The Italian job is not about me it is about making Italy a competitive force again like it was and it will be. It should be the same for Georgia, Romania, Fiji, Canada ¬ all these teams.
“Maybe I’m missing small print but the last I knew of it we played five Six Nations games, three summer Tests and three autumn Tests which to my maths makes 11 which is exactly the number of games they are proposing with a couple of play-offs at the end which everyone wants ¬ whether it be a final or promotion and relegation. They are protecting Lions years, they are protecting World Cup year. It sounds alright.”
So, no complaints there then from Conor.
For what it is worth RugbySpy is a massive fan of promotion and relegation. It should be part of the Six Nations, and any proposed World League, and any supporters of abolishing it in the Premiership should hang their heads in shame. So good on O’Shea, who has one of the toughest gigs in rugby, for embracing it, if it comes, and making a decent fist of his job in Rome.
O¹Shea left Quins to take over the Italian job in 2016 and has won just six Tests in that time. Those wins have come against Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Japan, the United States and, brilliantly, South Africa in his first year in the job, 20-18 in Firenze.
But he is not just the head coach of the national team. O’Shea has been tasked with a root and branch improvement of Italian rugby which is having some success.
Benetton are second in their conference of the Pro14, under the shrewd guidance of the former New Zealand full-back Kieran Crowley and have won 10 out of 17 games this season. We will draw a line under the performances of the other Italian side, Zebre, who have been ravaged by injuries however.
But something is stirring even is the results of the national side don’t reflect it.
Eddie Jones, O’Shea’s opposing coach on Saturday, couldn’t give a monkey’s about anything apart from the senior team. He has always told us that academies, development and all the rest of it are not part of his remit, that is the RFU big picture and he is paid to coach England.
Full stop.
O’Shea has a bigger canvas to paint but typically is confident he can fill in the blanks, promotion and relegation or no promotion and relegation.
“We play for the future of Italian rugby every day we go out on the pitch,” he continued. ” Play to win now but we’re playing for the future. I’m really comfortable where this team can go. If it comes in two or three years and they are talking about World League promotion and relegation play-offs if that¹s what it is we’ll play to the rules and don’t bet against Italy.”
“Just tell us the rules and we¹ll play it and make sure the game grows. It¹s what is good for the game. With what we¹re doing in Italy I’d be quite comfortable with that, whether it’s me here or someone else here, we have a bloody good team in the making here.”
The last quote might not stand up in court if the eight tries they conceded against England are anything to go by but O¹Shea is making waves down the Roman Road. And not the one in Bethnal Green.
RugbySpy likes a drink as much, probably more, than anyone else but something has got to be done about the ridiculous procession to the bars at Twickenham and other stadia during games.
Some fans, who had paid well into three figures for tickets, at HQ on Saturday had their view of England¹s match against Italy almost permanently obscured by punters going for a refill or a leak.
When you have shelled out like that you are entitled to have a decent peak at what is going on on the pitch. You are there for the game right?
It is not like being at the cricket all day. A rugby match lasts 80 minutes so buy a couple of pints and stick them under your seat and tie a knot in it.
And it is not as if Twickenham and the surrounding area is exactly a dry zone in the lead-up to a match kicking off at 4.45pm.
We all know unions need all the cash they can get, that¹s why it is north of £6 a pint at some grounds, but give me strength.
And don¹t get me on the rugby fans get sozzled and there is no aggro cobblers. On Saturday night walking to Richmond from Twickenham, after filing more deathless prose, the place looked like Glastonbury on a bad day.
At the St Margaret¹s roundabout at the end of Chertsey Road we also witnessed one person going completely ballistic at some traffic control stewards. We cannot be certain if he had been at the game or not but he had certainly had a few and the whole thing was pretty ugly.
One of RugbySpy¹s best mates is bringing his rugby-mad teenage son for his first visit to Twickenham to see the Scotland game next week. He has paid £230 for the two tickets.
Our first game at Twickenham was so long ago Bill Beaumont was the England captain but the kid is buzzing to go and see his heroes.
Let¹s hope he sees it and let¹s hope he remembers it, unlike some of the people there on Saturday, and let¹s hope he comes back.
We¹re meeting him and his dad in the pub before they go to the ground but they won¹t be moving during the game.