O'Shea urges Italy to end Six Nations drop debate
REACTION: Italy coach Conor O'Shea has urged his side to end the debate over their Six Nations status during this season's tournament.
There were renewed calls for promotion and relegation in the Six Nations, which could assist the likes of Georgia and Romania, following Italy's poor showing last year.
Not only did Italy lose all five of their matches, they suffered several thrashings including a 67-14 hammering by Wales -- their Rome opponents in the first round of this season's edition on February 5.
But former Ireland fullback O'Shea, installed as Italy coach last year after he left English Premiership side Harlequins, has had an encouraging start to his time in charge of the Azzurri, overseeing their first-ever win over South Africa in November.
"Italy have earned their right to be in the Six Nations," said O'Shea at Wednesday's tournament launch in London.
"If ever promotion and relegation were the case, who knows who would be at the bottom by the time that comes?
"If we get our system right and look after ourselves then we don't have to have those conversations."
O'Shea added: "We just want to earn people's respect this year, and see where that takes us."
O'Shea said the Azzurri's 20-18 defeat of the Springboks would become as iconic moment for Italian rugby as Munster's celebrated win over the All Blacks in 1978 had been for the game in Ireland.
"To me that win, it's massive," said O'Shea of Italy's tense triumph over South Africa.
"I'm fortunate I'm working in a country steeped in tradition, but we're very aware of its future.
"With my Irish hat on of Munster beating the All Blacks in 1978 is something that's always spoken about.
"While we know how much we have to learn, we showed the potential the team has if we play with that intensity and passion.
"The win over South Africa could be like that Munster win for us, but only if we make that the case.
"You give people something to cling on to, you give them hope, a match they can look at and realise it's not mythical.
"But all we want to do now is prepare to try to beat Wales."
O'Shea said his long-term goal was to make Italy a side no opponent looked forward to playing.
"We want to get to the World Cup in 2019 and be in a pool where people say 'oh, I don't want to play Italy'.
"What I want from my players is just an unbelievable work ethic. You should never be afraid of that," who has retained Italy great Sergio Parisse as his captain.
"The great Italian football teams were based on incredible defence, but with magic on top. You get that balance. And we need to be unbelievably difficult to play against.
"But then you need the magic on top that people like Sergio Parisse always offer."