Conor O'Shea looking ahead after disappointing end to Italian job
Speculation suggests former Italy coach bound for a position within the RFU
Conor O’Shea at the launch of N-Pro Headguard. Founded in Galway, N-Pro is the first headguard of its kind to be approved for global trial by World Rugby and to be used in competitive games at all levels. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
He’s not going to the RFU. He is going to the RFU. He’s not . . .he is . . . Let’s get this right. Conor O’Shea you are going to the RFU aren’t you? He’s not saying he’s not and not saying he is. But the room believes O’Shea is going to the RFU.
He left Italy earlier than they wanted him too. They thought he would take them through the 2020 Six Nations Championship. But the former Irish fullback called it quits.
The World Cup was a great big emotional whirlpool that stripped away the principal drive that keeps a coach alive to his job, the drive and the 10,000 mega watt commitment. He had come to the end of that journey with Italy.
It was not supposed to finish with a typhoon striking Japan and a cancelled final World Cup match with the All Blacks. But that was it and then stepping away six months before he was due. But when it sneaks up on you after nine years with Harlequins and Italy and it hits you, you know it and you feel it.
You are left with an answer to a question that you never asked. So you ask the question to the answer you already have. Should I go on? The answer was no. O’Shea had lost his “investment” in leading the Italian team. That’s why now, we think, he is with the RFU.
“If I was faking it, you’d see it,” he says. “If I’m standing in front of a group of players and they’re not absolutely invested in it, they see it. I knew when the World Cup was over. I sat down in the room and the game had been cancelled and I did the press conference and the players went out and had a good old-fashioned night to drown their sorrows.
“I stayed in with a couple of the officials from the federation before I joined the revelries. But I knew when I was sitting down, I didn’t say anything then, but I knew that to be able to drive that group . . . I won’t say I lost that passion. But it was definitely one that I think I wouldn’t have been giving my best for a group of players that are very proud to wear their national jersey and want success. You never get an escape valve. That’s probably the biggest challenge of the World Cup.”
O’Shea says he will not go into coaching but will take a broader role in a game that he believes is undergoing another spasm of change. He says his wife and children deserve a mood that is not determined by a match result at the weekend or an emotional state that is driven by the scoreboard.
He was speaking to Felix Jones in the tunnel after the World Cup final and saw the Springboks close up. He saw how physically big they were and Jones, who had been invited into the Springbok coaching staff by coach Rassie Erasmus, spoke of winning for South Africa.
“To see them up close and personal, they were massive,” says O’Shea at the launch of the N-Pro headguard, the first to be approved for global trial by World Rugby.
“I talked to Felix, had a beer in the tunnel with him after the game and he just said they go back to their DNA the whole time. He said, ‘If we lose, we’ll lose as South Africa’. They nearly didn’t get to the final but afterwards, everyone is looking at them and saying they’ve got the perfect model.”
Mike Catt, the former London Irish, England and Italian backs or attack coach, he believes will help mould Ireland into that winning model, when he hooks up with Andy Farrell. Catt was with O’Shea in Italy from 2016.
“I think what he will do because in psychometric parlance he’s a yellow, he’s an energy giver, he’s an entertainer. He’s from Brian Ashton’s school,” says O’Shea.
“That Bath team that Brian coached and Mike was pivotal to how Bath played. When Brian was here he tried to give us a skill set that we did not have. Mike is coming into a system that is full of skilful players and they have got the skill sets to be pushed and I think he will probably have very similar philosophies to how Brian played the game.
“But I think we will have the armoury to be able to do it. We were just not ready for Brian. He was too early for Irish rugby but knew exactly what was needed.”
O’Shea points to the raw data from Italy to inform how the Port Elizabeth-born former England centre impacted on the national team. The Italian side in Japan scored more tries in the World Cup than any Italian team before them, he says.
You can argue it was Canada, it was Namibia. He argues the same teams have always been there and because of the typhoon Italy played one game less. He knows they might not have scored 20 tries against the All Blacks but historically for the last four-year period Italy scored more tries than the 10 years before.
“He can still do his skill set,” says O’Shea admiringly of his frequent golfing partner and Farrell’s new assistant with Ireland.
“He’s unbelievable. He can still do and show.”