Six Nations: Conor O'Shea hopes Italy can mirror Scotland rise

By Andy BurkeBBC Scotland in Rome
Conor O'Shea and Jonny Gray shake hands at full-time
Conor O'Shea's Italy were narrowly beaten by Scotland on the final weekend of the Six Nations

Italy head coach Conor O'Shea believes his side can mirror Scotland's recent progression and embark on a similar journey despite a third successive winless Six Nations campaign.

The Azzurri were edged out by Scotland in a dramatic Rome encounter, having led 24-12 early in the second half.

Italy finish the tournament in last place for the 13th season.

"The first job is is to catch the teams above us in the world rankings," former Harlequins coach O'Shea said.

"The second part is to turn these types of performances into wins. We're just going to grow and grow.

"Scotland are a great example. It doesn't happen overnight, but I think people are beginning to see we're beginning to galvanise some pretty good young people."

Italy's dynamic, high-tempo rugby splintered an error-strewn Scotland time and again, with Tommaso Allan, the former Scotland Under-20 fly-half, scoring two tries and Matteo Minozzi also crossing.

A late Scottish rally, capped by Greig Laidlaw's 79th-minute penalty, meant the visitors squeaked home 29-27.

O'Shea was devastated his players were unable to convert their dominant performance into a victory.

"I'm destroyed for the guys and the supporters," he told BBC Scotland.

"Hopefully you saw a team that's different to normal. I've been saying throughout this championship we've had chances and not taken them to change the energy of a match and today we showed with a lot of young guys that we can become a very, very good side and play some very exciting rugby.

Final Six Nations table
*Ireland are awarded three bonus points for winning the Grand Slam

"As long as we understand the level we need to get to and everybody understands that this is a long, hard, slog of a job to change things that weren't changed when they should have been but are now changing.

"I thought we played some great rugby. We always knew we were probably one score away from breaking it at 24-12.

"Fair play to Scotland, that takes great mental strength from them. But I'm gutted."

'We have more than one way to win'

Match-winner Laidlaw says Scotland showed they can win ugly and believes that ability will serve them well in future.

The Scots, bottom of the table in 2015, picked up two victories a year later and have claimed three apiece in 2017 and 2018.

"It's massively positive that we now have more than just one way to win," the half-back said.

"It's important too because we were struggling at times, but we really grabbed the game by utilising our forwards.

Greig Laidlaw on the attack for Scotland
Greig Laidlaw kicked the match-winning penalty for Scotland

"We squeezed them and off the back of putting them under pressure we were able to open the game up.

"It showed we could play both ways at different points in the game."

Trailing by 12 points going into the final quarter, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg touched down to put Scotland in front, only for the visitors to fall behind again in the 76th minute to an Allan penalty.

It was left to Laidlaw to decide the match with his own three-pointer in the final two minutes.

"It's up there with the best I've hit," the Borderer said of his vital kick.

"I've already said to the boys I'd prefer they don't get us in that situation where I don't have to kick too many of them.

"That's part of my job as a goal-kicker though. It's down to me to put them over and thankfully I was able to do that."