Six Nations

Italy coach wants another 'big performance'

2017-02-04 14:07
Conor O'Shea (Getty Images)

Milan - Italy coach Conor O'Shea wants the kind of "big performance" that shocked South Africa when his Azzurri face Wales looking to claim another notable scalp in their Six Nations opener on Sunday.

Wales, led by interim coach Rob Howley while Warren Gatland is on British and Irish Lions duty, have not suffered defeat to Italy in a decade.

They have topped 60 points on each of their last two Six Nations outings against the Azzurri.

For some, including captain Alun Wyn Jones, eventual selection to the British and Irish Lions summer tour squad will provide extra incentive, if any was needed, ahead of the sides' 25th meeting -- 22 of which they have won.

But while O'Shea acknowledges past difficulties against the Welsh, he insists Italy are no longer prepared to be the tournament whipping boys.

"The last two games against them were very difficult for us, but we're concentrating on our game and the job we have to do," said O'Shea.

"We have to try and impose our game on them then at the end of the 80 minutes, we'll see.

"But I want a really big performance this weekend so everyone understands that we are on the right road.

"We're changing. Sport is a strange animal, and things can turn around quickly."

It is O'Shea's Six Nations coaching debut and he was quick to underline the extent of Italy's ambitions.

"I can tell you it's not to win it! Ireland, England, Scotland, France and Wales all have chances, though not necessarily in that order.

"We have to be the best Italy possible. I want to see 400 minutes of top performances, from the first minute to the last.

"We've already shown we can do that."

Jones, capped 105 times by Wales, might have more reason than most to be wary.

He is the sole starting line-up survivor from the Wales team beaten by Italy in Rome 10 years ago.

"I have had the experience to be out there and lose, so I know both sides of the coin," said Jones, who will skipper Wales following his appointment as successor to record-breaking skipper Sam Warburton.

"I said to Rob (Howley) that the pressure is on the team selected to go out there and perform."

But despite the threat of heavy rain in Rome throughout the weekend, few rugby aficionados will really expect another upset.

In Gatland's absence, Howley appointed Jones as skipper, with Warburton to start at blindside flanker alongside in-form openside Justin Tipuric and Gloucester's Ross Moriarty.

Scott Williams started two of four games for Wales in the autumn and keeps his place ahead of stalwart centre Jamie Roberts, with Ospreys pair Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar in the half-backs.

With bonus points now available for the first time in the tournament, targeting a maximum haul ahead of next week's England showdown in Cardiff is a big temptation.

But Howley insists making a positive start -- Wales have won their opening Six Nations fixture only once since taking Grand Slam glory five years ago -- is the priority.

"It took a long time to select the team. We believe this is the best team to start the tournament," said Howley.

"We believe the majority of those players gave a good account of themselves, from a winning perspective, during the autumn period and it's important we start well, hence the selection.

"We have picked experience, but they have to go out and play. The side that has been selected has about a 70 per cent winning ratio in the Six Nations.

"They know what winning looks and smells like in the Six Nations, and that's the challenge on Sunday."

O'Shea has made five changes, mostly in the pack, from the side that stunned the Boks with Edoardo Gori replacing Giorgio Bronzini at fly-half to resurrect his fly-half partnership with Carlo Canna.

Maxime M'Banda, making his tournament debut, and Abraham Steyn, who has pushed Francesco Minto on to the replacements' bench, will flank Italy captain Sergio Parisse in the third row.

In the second row George Biagi replaces Andries Van Schalkwyk while prop Andrea Lovotti replaces Sami Panico, who also drops to the bench.

Read more on:    italy  |  six nations  |  conor o'shea  |  rugby
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