Italy head coach Conor O’Shea is determined to build on the victory over South Africa in this year’s Six Nations, which starts next week.
O’Shea, who has been impressed by both the players and country since taking over the job last year, sees plenty of promise for the Azzurri.
Speaking at the Six Nations launch, he was asked how critical that success over the Springboks was and he admitted it was a landmark win.
“To me it was massive,” he said. “I’m fortunate that I’m working in a country that’s steeped in tradition. The following week showed how much we have to learn but the South Africa game showed the potential this squad has if it plays with the intensity, passion and will it showed. The crowd were something special and I think if you give people hope from a rugby match then that can inspire future generations.”
Italy kick-off their campaign at home to Wales on February 5, which is a perfect opportunity for his side to lay down a marker, as O’Shea drew comparisons with the best football teams the country has produced in the past in plotting how they can challenge their main rivals.
“The great Italian football teams in the past were based on an incredible defence and then you had Roberto Baggio or Paolo Rossi and that bit of magic. We need to be unbelievably difficult to play against and then have the magic to do something when it counts,” he revealed.
“We want to be hard to play against and that’s our goal. We want to go to the World Cup and for other teams to look at us and think ‘I don’t want to play Italy’.”
Creating that fear factor requires the Azzurri to be able to maintain their performance for entire matches, something that’s held them back in the past.
“We talk about 80 minutes all the time,” he added. “My players’ passion for the game is amazing to see and hopefully we can given them an environment over the coming years that the experienced players can fulfil what they want and have more days like South Africa.
“If we can get it right then it won’t just be one offs, it will be on a regular basis that Italy will be a competitive country.”
Captain Sergio Parisse meanwhile was full of praise for his coach’s impact since he arrived in Italy and sees good things ahead for the team.
“He brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm that maybe we had lost over the last two years,” he said.
“It’s a real pleasure every time we meet together as a team. We met last week for the first time since November and it felt like we had been together all of that time which is fantastic.
“He brought with him Mike Catt and Brendan Venter and I can tell you we’re in a good way from a technical point of view. We hope to create a legacy in the next five to ten years.”