London - Conor O'Shea says he has approached the huge
challenge of being Italy rugby head coach like an alcoholic addressing his
addiction and admitting there is a problem.
The 46-year-old Irishman - who replaced Frenchman Jacques
Brunel last year - told The Times he needed to change the mindset of the
players who were suffering the inevitable consequences of always being told
they were useless.
The many critics have had a field day following last
Saturday's abject 63-10 defeat at the hands of his native Ireland with some
even questioning do Italy deserve to stay in the competition - the well-funded
Georgia being mooted as a potential replacement.
That appears a longshot although another hammering against
Grand Slam holders England at Twickenham on Sunday week will provide further
"It's like an alcoholic. The first thing he has to do
is say, 'I have a problem.' We have to acknowledge it," he told Saturday's
edition of The Times.
"Of course there is a lot to change, but any Tom, Dick
and Harry can come in here and tell us what we need to do.
"If someone says you are really bad at your job, and
everyone else then keeps telling you that, then it's in your head.
"There is so much negativity and I don't just mean
external. These players are constantly told they are not good enough.
"We need players mentally strong enough to deal with
very tough times."
O'Shea - who established his coaching credentials at English
Premiership side Harlequins guiding them to the domestic title in 2012 and two
European Challenge trophy victories - says the debate about Italy's future in
the Six Nations is superfluous.
"It was the four nations, then five," said O'Shea,
who is following in the footsteps of coaching greats like Nick Mallett and
Pierre Berbizier in trying to turn around the fortunes of Italy.
"We should be expanding, not going the other way.
"Over the last 30 Six Nations matches before this year
Scotland had won one more than Italy, and go back to my day and Ireland would
have been relegated a few times.
"I look at it and think Italy has the third-biggest
economy in Europe. If we want to grow the game, rugby can ill afford to say,
'We don't need you.' If we get our act together then the whole conversation
becomes a moot point anyway."
O'Shea, an exciting fullback as a player earning 35 caps and
scoring 11 tries, says the promise being shown by the Under-20 side is a basis
for optimism about the future as was the senior side's historic 20-18 triumph
over an admittedly demoralised South Africa last November.
"There are a lot of people on the outside saying they
are not good enough," said O'Shea, who has brought in the experienced pair
of Mike Catt and Brendan Venter to back him up in the coaching department.
"Having been here long enough now, I can say they will
be plenty good enough."