Italy head coach Conor O’Shea has been using Wayne Smith as his special “counsel” and admits the World Cup-winning All Black legend has left him feeling like a novice.
Smith is revered as a great coach and man-manager and is fluent in Italian which has helped him make a significant impact alongside O’Shea whose position as Italy head coach is the subject of speculation heading into their opening Six Nations clash with Scotland but the former Ireland fullback is confident of taking the team to the World Cup in Japan.
O’Shea said: “We have been very fortunate to work with Wayne Smith on and off for the last year and he has been able to introduce some new stuff to the team.
“Wayne came for two weeks on our Japan tour and will be with us in July in the build-up to the World Cup. It is not often I sit down with people and think “I know nothing about rugby – like nothing!” He takes rugby knowledge to a different level and is a great counsel to have but the biggest thing is that he can articulate in Italian because he has played and coached there and has great friends in Italy.
“For us now it’s about intensifying behind the scene and putting our skills under pressure. It is counsel from afar and then Wayne will come to be with us in the build-up to the World Cup. Italy had unbelievable talent but didn’t have the structures in place to evolve like other countries and that is what we are trying to do now. We can learn off everyone and Scotland is a very good example for us.
“Rugby isn’t different and hasn’t changed for a 100 years and sometimes when you bring someone in from the outside they say the same things but it is with a different voice. The players go “wow” and I am thinking “ I have been saying that for ages!” It is not rocket science and we have an ambitious group of players who put in so much against the odds. You need preconceptions to be put away and we face a multi-faceted challenge and we want to beg, steal and borrow.”
Reports in France speculate that Racing 92 pair Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers have been approached about replacing O’Shea at the end of this year’s World Cup in Japan. O’Shea is contracted with the Italian federation through to the conclusion of the 2020 Six Nations after signing a four-year contract in March 2016 but has managed just six wins in 28 matches.
O’Shea is aware of the speculation about his future after the World Cup and he added: “I told the President of the Federation that we are all in this for the team. Do they want me to stay on yes. Would I expect them to be looking at alternatives? They say not but I hope they are because if they don’t they will be slammed for not looking.
“I can’t wait to lead this team into the Six Nations, World Cup and beyond. What will be will be. It is not about me it is about Italian rugby.”
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