Six Nations 2018: Italy may spring a surprise or two
Weakest team impressed last year and Conor O’Shea will now be hoping for more in 2018
Italy head coach Conor O’Shea will be hoping for his team cause a few upsets this year. Photo: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images
You Bet: Winner 500/1, Grand Slam 2,500/1
Last Year: Sixth
The current form of the competition’s traditional whipping boys does little to suggest that this year will be any different but head coach Conor O’Shea does believe that they are beginning to gain more respect, despite winning only four Test matches in 17 attempts under the Irishman. One of those wins came against Fiji in the recent November internationals – ending a run of nine losses in a row – but was followed up by defeats to Argentina and South Africa. The loss to the Springboks came a year after Italy had shocked the rugby world by beating the same opponents in Rome but O’Shea doesn’t feel that November’s results represented a step backwards.
“The first thing you do is gain everyone’s respect and I think, slowly, we are beginning to do that,” he said. “We are a lot further down the road [than a year ago]. I am probably more excited now than when I arrived because we can really begin to see things are happening. There’s so much we have to do but there’s been a lot of hard graft.”
For that reason this year’s Six Nations represents a huge point in O’Shea’s reign. Even just one win would represent progress after five defeats out of five in last year’s competition and a pretty sorry performance all around. A win and more respect gained would give O’Shea something to show for his reign which will reach the two-year mark in March but another campaign like last year’s could see questions being asked as to what progress, if any, has been made under the former Ireland international. It would also give the Italians a real impetus to kick on towards the 2019 World Cup, by which time O’Shea has said that he believes his team will be among the top 10 in the world from a current position of 13.
After making his Italian debut against Fiji in the November internationals, Irish-born Ian McKinley could make for an intriguing storyline if he was to lineout against the country of his birth in Dublin while legendary number eight Sergio Parisse is surely approaching the end of his international career at 34-years-old and, who knows, perhaps this could be the last Six Nations we see him play in. For that reason alone no one would begrudge Italy at least a win or two. RC
The Coach: Conor O’Shea is in his second season as Italy’s head coach will be looking for incremental improvement; he has brought in former All Blacks backs coach Wayne Smith in a consultancy role.
The Captain: Sergio Parisse Italy’s indestructible talisman is now 34-years-old and passed his peak but remains a talisman for the team, albeit one who needs to realise that he can’t do everything.
Fixtures: Italy v England (Sunday, February 4th - kick off: 3pm), Ireland v Italy (Saturday, February 10th - kick off: 2.15pm), France v Italy (Friday, February 22nd - kick off: 8pm), Wales v Italy (Sunday, March 11th - kick off: 3pm), Italy v Scotland (Saturday, March 17th - kick off: 12.30pm).
Prediction: Their best chance of a victory and it’d be great to see them win at least one match may come away to Wales and at home to Scotland in rounds four and five. Sixth.