Conor O’Shea wants Italy to be refereed on ‘level playing field’

Captain Sergio Parisse on course to be fit to play in Six Nations clash with Ireland

With a November win over South Africa under his belt, can Conor O'Shea be the one to change the fortunes of Italian rugby? John O'Sullivan takes a closer look at the former Ireland international's Azzurri squad. Video: David Dunne

 

The Italian persecution complex over officiating in the Six Nations Championship is not a recent gripe. There have been occasions when it has been a legitimate concern, just as there have been times when Italy’s on-pitch transgressions merited the censure of a heavy penalty count.  

Italy lost the penalty count 16-5 in their 33-7 defeat to Wales at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday; they led 7-3 at halftime. It’s a significant discrepancy even by Italian standards, and it prompted Azzurri coach Conor O’Shea – there was no direct criticism of match referee JP Doyle – to sound a clarion call for the future, starting with Saturday’s game against Ireland in Rome.

“We have to make sure we change the perception of people who look at us, so we are refereed on a level playing field,” O’Shea said.

“The energy that is driven away and towards an opposition is huge when it is 16-5 [penalty count]. We have a huge, huge challenge. I want to make sure we are looked on the same as others, and then we will be fine.”

Obviously with the benefit of a video review, the penalty count remained something of a pebble in the shoe as Italian forwards’ coach Giampiero De Carli reverted to the matter during a press briefing on Tuesday. He acknowledged that the Italians had been undisciplined – otherwise they would not have racked up a penalty count of 15 against them – but also said “until a few minutes from the end, we had only had two in our favour”.

Impact

“I do not think that the yardstick [of interpretation] changed during the game. It was the same from the beginning, and I can think of several situations in which the Welsh were not penalised while we, with roles reversed, were. And it is clear that this has had an impact in the evolution of the game.”

In last season’s Six Nations and the first match of the current tournament, Italy conceded 69 penalties, at an average of 11.5 penalties per game, while their opposition conceded 55 penalties at an average of just more than nine.

However, the comparison is heavily skewed by Sunday’s figures (16-5). In the aforementioned run of matches Italy conceded 13 in a 23-21 defeat to France at the Stade de France but in matches against England, Ireland and Scotland only gave up nine penalties in each game and 10 against Wales in last season’s Six Nations.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland beat Italy 58-15 at the Aviva Stadium last season, but the penalty count in a game refereed by Australia’s Angus Gardner was 9-9. The only time in which the Italians enjoyed an advantage in that particular statistical column was when they played England in 2016. They lost the game at Stadio Olimpico 40-9 but won the penalty count 15-9.

Good news

Coincidentally, the referee in charge of that game is the same one who will preside over Saturday’s game against Ireland, New Zealander Glen Jackson. As the modern coaching vernacular goes, “the Italians paint a good picture” as far as Jackson is concerned.

There was some good news for O’Shea and his team with their captain Sergio Parisse set to recover from a neck injury sustained against Wales. The initial prognosis was not good, but team manager Luigi Troiani said: “Parisse underwent an MRI [on Monday] after the trauma to the neck. The examination did not show anything special, and already this [Tuesday] morning he showed great signs of improvement.”

He also said South African-born Dries van Schalkwyk and Simone Favaro should also come back into consideration following injury issues and would rejoin the 31-man squad that resumes training on Wednesday. 

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