Conor O’Shea backs Nations Championship despite relegation threat

‘If we just have the couple of rich kids winning everything we don’t have a game’

Italy head coach  Conor O’Shea has backed proposals for a Nations Championship. Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Italy head coach Conor O’Shea has backed proposals for a Nations Championship. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

The Italy head coach, Conor O’Shea, has come out in support of World Rugby’s controversial proposal for a new global league despite the obvious threat it poses to his side’s place in the Six Nations.

World Rugby insisted on Wednesday that promotion and relegation from the Six Nations every two years was a fundamental part of its proposed Nations Championship, which would start in 2022. Under the proposal, the team who finish bottom of the Six Nations would face a playoff against the team who finish top of Europe’s second tier – a competition won by Georgia seven times in the past eight years.

Having finished bottom of the Six Nations for the past three years and on a run of 20 consecutive championship losses, Italy, who face England at Twickenham on Saturday, appear to be the side with most to lose if a relegation playoff was introduced.

Whether World Rugby’s proposal materialises remains to be seen with an emergency meeting scheduled in Dublin next week and there is considerable opposition from within the Six Nations at board level. But O’Shea has given the Nations Championship a ringing endorsement, dismissing any concerns over relegation.

“On the face of it this seems like a really exciting proposal,” said O’Shea. “The one thing we need to do is to grow the game. If we just have the couple of rich kids winning everything we don’t have a game. It’s what is good for the game.

“With what we’re doing in Italy I’d be quite comfortable that, whether it’s me here or someone else here, we have a bloody good team in the making. I’m really comfortable where this team can go. If it comes in two or three years and they are talking about World League promotion and relegation playoffs, if that’s what it is we’ll play to the rules and don’t bet against Italy.”

Italy head to Twickenham having never beaten England in 24 Tests and are as long as 60-1 with some bookmakers to end their losing streak.

Making Italy’s task all the more difficult, Eddie Jones has selected what O’Shea believes is “the backline he has been dreaming of” with Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o in the centres and Joe Cokanasiga on the wing.

“This is probably the team that Eddie has wanted to pick for quite a while,” added O’Shea, who welcomes his captain, Sergio Parisse, back to the starting lineup.

“He won’t say it, but certainly in the backline it is the one that he is dreaming of. We are looking forward to the challenge that brings. We will be put under huge duress by an absolutely enormous English team.

“It’s an incredibly strong England team and they’ll be out sniffing blood and looking to prove a point. We know we’ll be under the pump at Twickenham, we know they will be baying for blood. Eddie has named this strong team, they’ll be full metal jacket and we’re ready.”

Upon naming his side, Jones threw in a curveball by claiming Maro Itoje, who suffered a knee injury on his return to training this week, may yet be included in England’s squad.

O’Shea however, was nonplussed by Jones’s seemingly playful suggestion. “If it happens it happens,” he said. “Honestly we focus on ourselves so I don’t really give a jock what the others are doing.” – Guardian

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