Italy cannot rest on their laurels

Wed, 23 Nov 2016 09:51
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NEWS: Italy coach Conor O'Shea warned the triumphant Azzurri not to rest on their laurels ahead of their final November Test against Tonga on Saturday.

Italy beat a crisis-hit Springboks 20-18 at the 13th time of asking to spark huge celebrations in Florence and in the rugby heartlands to the north of the country but O'Shea said he expects the intensity of their game, as well their discipline to improve when they host the physical Tongans in Padova.

"The discipline we had and the work rate I saw against South Africa can and must improve this weekend, that's what I expect to see.

"Now, all eyes are on us. We can't be sidetracked by thoughts of winning. We have to focus on our objectives, which haven't changed: hard work, discipline and intensity," he said.

Eyebrows were raised throughout Italy less than two weeks ago when O'Shea's first home game in charge ended in a 10-68 defeat to New Zealand in Rome.

But the Irishman insisted the severity of defeat, to what was effectively an All Blacks 'B' team, had offered valuable clues about the aspects Italy's game requiring improvement for the Boks.

A week later, Italy pounced to register their maiden victory over South Africa thanks to a late penalty from flyhalf Carlo Canna. But as Italian rugby popped the Champagne corks, O'Shea had his feet firmly on the ground.

"It was really easy," said O'Shea when asked if he'd found if he'd struggled to contain his post-match enthusiasm.

"We know we've only taken one step on a very long journey. Our job - mine and the coaches - is to make sure the squad is motivated and competitive for every game, but this can only happen if we keep on developing our objectives: this is what helps create the little situations that make a big difference to the result.

"In the next two or three months, the freshest and most important memory will be of how we fared against Tonga, that's why we have to list our work rate and focus on what is ahead of us."

O'Shea made only one change from last week's starting XV. Andries van Schalkwyk, who scored one of Italy's two tries in Florence, replaced in the second row by Quintin Geldenhuys.

Bloemfontein-born van Schalkwyk came off injured in Florence and "is still recovering", according to the Italian federation (FIR), although O'Shea said he is hoping to welcome the big lock back to the fold for Saturday.

O'Shea will announce his replacements bench on Thursday. O'Shea's pre-match squad will be trimmed to 28 players when Treviso pair Marco Barbini and David Odiete return to their club.

O'Shea said it was designed to help boost the national team's prospects by allowing players who can be spared from Tests to gain experience in the Pro12 championship, the successor to the pan-European Celtic league.

On Friday, Zebre are at Ulster while Treviso face Munster on Saturday.

"When the national team and the two franchises [Treviso and Zebre] have games at the end of the week, as a general rule we will make the players who are not in the starting XV available to the clubs.

"As I've always said, if we are to be competitive we also need our players gaining experience in the Pro12," he added.

Agence France-Presse