Six Nations 2017: Joe Schmidt says Conor O'Shea can turn Italy into a genuine force
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt says Conor O'Shea is the right man to turn Italy into a competitive force despite the Azzurri's opening Six Nations defeats.
The Irish achieved their biggest Six Nations win in a nine-try 63-10 thumping of O'Shea's side on Saturday.
Italy are now staring at a 12th Wooden Spoon in their 18th Six Nations but Schmidt says O'Shea must be given time.
"To coin a phrase, 'Rome wasn't built in a day'. I think he [O'Shea] will build something," said Schmidt.
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"He's got a track record for being able to build systems and a structure and a belief in a group that can be competitive.
"When he went in to Harlequins, they weren't the competitive animal that they became. They (Italy) have some really good players."
O'Shea's first Autumn campaign saw him guiding the Italians a shock win over South Africa in Florence but the Azzurri were beaten by Tonga a week later before the recent Six Nations defeats by Wales and Ireland.
Murmurings over Italy's Six Nations place
There have been suggestions that Italy's continuing Six Nations struggles could see their participation in the tournament come under threat from Georgia and Romania.
In 2015 Octavian Morariu, the president of Rugby Union's promotion and development governing body called for Georgia and Romania to be admitted to the Six Nations following some creditable displays on the international stage.
But after the Azzurri's ninth successive Six Nations defeat on Saturday, O'Shea insisted there is "no debate" about his side's future in the tournament while Schmidt pointed out that the Italians have had their moments against Ireland in recent seasons.
"We had a similar score against them last year [58-15] but the score before that [at the 2015 World Cup] was 16-9. It's only four years ago that Ireland were beaten by Italy," added the Ireland coach.
"I think they will balance out again, they will get a bit of stability through Conor and they have a lot of guys playing their first Six Nations ...guys who are promising. They have some real talent."
Struggling Italians face England next
With Grand Slam chasing England up next at Twickenham, Italy will be expected to suffer another hammering but O'Shea and his captain Sergio Parisse are refusing to be despondent.
"We will never hang our heads. We have to get ready in one week's time and be focused for England at Twickenham," said the coach.
Parisse added: "I have total confidence in Conor and my team-mates.
"Perhaps Ireland were a lot stronger than us, but are we going to sit and accept it? No, we have to lift our heads and go out and do the job."
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