Milan (AFP) – Conor O’Shea believes he has found the right mix of youth and experience as Italy look for a breakthrough in three November tests against southern hemisphere sides to build towards the 2019 World Cup.
Captain and number eight Sergio Parisse and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini are both experienced campaigners and are back for games against Fiji, Argentina and South Africa on consecutive weekends between November 11-25.
The squad also includes five new faces — full-back Matteo Minozzi, Ireland-born fly-half Ian McKinley, New Zealand-born centre Jayden Hayward, and loose forwards Renato Giammarioli and Giovanni Licata.
“Finally I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” O’Shea told a press conference in Milan on Wednesday.
“We have young players with a lot of potential like Mattia Bellini and people with experience like Sergio (Parisse).
“We have three opportunities to win. I don’t know if we will do it, I hope so, but we are certainly on the right track.”
Optimism is a distinctive feature of Irishman O’Shea’s character, but this year, unlike other seasons, he believes signals for a positive outcome are concrete.
Results have been encouraging for the two Italian franchises from the first six rounds of Pro 14 rugby — Trevisio having three wins and Zebre two.
“I am convinced that the difference between us and the others is the working rate,” continued the former Ireland international.
“In 20 years we haven’t made the necessary changes, but in the last two, partly because of the young players, we have done so much. Many of our problems are in the head, confidence. Now I feel there is a different energy.”
Italy play Fiji in Catania on November 11, followed by Argentina in Florence on November 18 and South Africa in Padua on November 25.
O’Shea — capped 35 times for Ireland before his career was cut short aged 30 due to a knee injury — coached his former club London Irish and Harlequins before joining Italy in March 2016.
But apart from an historic victory over South Africa in November 2016, his achievements have been slim with Italy failing to score any points in his first Six Nations campaign.
But Stade Francais’s Parisse, 34, credits O’Shea with changing the Italy team’s mentality.
“With Conor we challenge ourselves. The way the two franchises have started the season bodes well. I’m happy, especially because now the boys are sorry, angry if they lose by one or two points, they no longer say ‘well we got close’.”
“There is a progressive improvement,” continued Italian rugby federation president Alfredo Gavazzi, adding the decision to hold a match in Catania was to try and develop the sport in Sicily.
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