Italy set for fitness culture shock, warns O'Shea

2016-05-24 16:19
Sergio Parisse (Getty Images)

Milan - Under-performing and unfit Italy players are set for a culture shock of hard graft under new coach Conor O'Shea after he outlined ambitious plans to create the "best Italian team ever" on Tuesday.

O'Shea played 35 times for Ireland before becoming one of the most sought-after coaches in the sport and succeeds ageing Frenchman Jacques Brunel after another disappointing season for the Azzurri.

The 45-year-old from Limerick said he is "incredibly excited" at the challenge.

But he and backs coach Mike Catt -- who earned 75 caps for England -- have warned Italy's underperforming squad there will be no room for complacency as they start from a "clean sheet".

He expects Italy to lift their fitness levels to match those of the teams they are regularly beaten by in the Six Nations.

Towards the end of his four-year spell, O'Shea wants current captain Sergio Parisse to lead Italy to the World Cup in Japan with real belief they can make significant progress.

But for now, he admitted: "Not everyone, but some players, to me, don't look fit enough to play at the highest level, and they will cost the group.

"It doesn't matter about your technical ability. If you're not fit enough you will die on the pitch in the last 30 minutes (of a game)."

Italy narrowly missed victory several times at the last Six Nations, Parisse notably fluffing a drop goal at the death that would have secured a win over the French in Paris, and perhaps changed their entire outlook for the remainder of the tournament.

O'Shea, who has a Masters degree in Sports Science, said the focus is now on "fitness, mentality and nutrition".

If they can get those right, he believes it will show through improved performances on the pitch.

"I love to play with ball in hand but you can't do that, for example, if you can't make your tackles," added O'Shea.

"Italy always start fast, but as the match progresses they get slower and slower. We have to change that, and we have have to identify the players who can help us."

South African-born Catt, who won the World Cup with England in 2003, joins O'Shea following a three-year spell as backs coach with England and said: "The players will have fun in training, but in every training session we expect a high quality performance."

Italy embark on a tour of the Americas next month when they will meet Canada, Argentina and the United States. Several experienced players, such as long-time captain and Stade Francais hooker Sergio Parisse, have been given a deserved rest.

O'Shea will name a new captain for the tour but expects talisman Parisse, "one of the greatest players of all time", to lead them to Japan in just over three years' time.

"I just hope he has a great summer and comes back fresh and raring to go. I cannot wait to work with him because he is one of the all-time great rugby players," O'Shea told AFP. "I want Sergio to lead us into Japan."

O'Shea, whose passable Italian shocked and pleased a packed media conference in equal measure, said that while he wants to bring through younger players he will also keep the door open to "experienced players".

"I've looked at the players in the under categories. There's quality and ability there, and I think some of the under-20s could come through very quickly," said O'Shea.

"But for me, it's a clean sheet for everyone. We've got some experienced players we could bring back in."

He added: "We need to create a successful environment that they want to be part of. I want the team to make the fans proud.

"Italian people are characterised by passion and emotion and I want my players to deliver that to them.

"I played against a fantastic Italy side in the 1990s, and I think with the right mentality, we can be even better than that team. I want this to be the best Italian team ever."

Read more on:    italy  |  sergio parisse  |  rugby

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