Italy look to new generation

MILAN – Moments after Italy notched up the joint-worst losing streak in the northern hemisphere’s premier tournament a week ago, their Irish coach, Conor O’Shea, lived up to his reputation as an incurable optimist.

“We’re coming,” he told an incredulous group of reporters after the Azzurri narrowly lost a Six Nations clash to Scotland in Rome, their 17th straight loss over three years.

Yet two years after O’Shea took over as coach and despite a record of four wins from 22 Tests, many inside Italy’s small rugby community share his faith that the foundations of Italian rugby are actually improving.

As evidence, they point not only to the fact that Italy led Scotland for an hour of their final-round match, playing a new brand of aggressive, ball-playing rugby, but that the next generation of players are beginning to step up.

Stephen Aboud, Irish rugby’s former technical director who now works alongside O’Shea as Italy’s head of rugby development, cites the Under 20s as one of the main reasons for optimism.

He described it as an affirmation of the work being done to restructure Italian rugby, from overhauling its junior rugby academies and grassroots coaching set-up to aligning the interests of clubs and the top professional levels of the game.