Conor O’Shea says the future of Italian rugby matters more than whether he remains the head coach of the Azzurri.
O’Shea is entering the final year of a four-year deal and media reports have suggested the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) have been sounding out possible replacement candidates for the former Ireland fullback.
But O’Shea, speaking at the official launch of the 2019 Six Nations in London on Wednesday, said: “It’s not about me, it’s about the future of Italian rugby.”
Italy, who do not possess the same extensive rugby or player pool as their major continental rivals, have struggled since joining what was the Five Nations Championship in 2000 and have won just one match in Europe’s premier international rugby union tournament during the past five years.
Asked by AFP whether his measure of Championship success was wins and losses, O’Shea replied: “We don’t control that. We want to deliver a consistency in our performance.
“Over the last 12-18 months, we know we’ve beaten Georgia, beaten Japan away, beaten Fiji — we haven’t beaten teams at the highest level.
“We’ve had some very competitive games, Scotland in the Six Nations last year (a 29-27 defeat in Rome) where we played some fantastic rugby, Australia in November where we played some of our best rugby but without the energy infusion, the energy of a (winning) result.”
He added: “We have to create a habit of intensity that we bring to every game and if we do we will be ever more competitive.”
Meanwhile veteran Italy captain Sergio Parisse, in a year that will also feature the World Cup in Japan, said the 2019 Six Nations might be his last.
“Maybe it’s my last Six Nations back-row is very competitive,” said the 35-year-old No 8 who has appeared in 134 Tests.
Italy begin their latest Championship campaign away to an improving Scotland on February 2 and O’Shea said: “Our only focus is on delivering a massively intense performance against Scotland and see where that takes us.
“We are not stupid, we know the scale of the challenge. We are prepared to win, we want to win, we are competitive people.”
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Marisa Kennedy)