There appears little reason for optimism as Italy prepare to start their 2019 Six Nations campaign.
With no wins in the competition since 2015, three consecutive wooden spoons and a run of 17 successive defeats in the tournament, Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri appear poised to resume their role as Six Nations whipping boys when they visit Murrayfield on Saturday.
However, O’Shea is inspired by the turnaround Scotland have enjoyed in recent times, having gone from winless also-rans four years ago to contenders last season, beating France, England and Italy en route to a third-placed finish.
“They’re a great example to everybody of what you can do when you get your structures right,” O’Shea said.
“And it’s not something that happened overnight. I think it’s a perfect, perfect demonstration to Italian rugby what can be achieved with patience and perseverance. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Hopes of a similar upturn in fortunes are boosted by the performances of Benetton Treviso in the Pro14. Scotland’s 2018 revival came amid a season in which Glasgow Warriors finished first in their Conference and reached the semi-finals of that competition, and Treviso are in position to reach the playoffs this season, with the Veneto club second in Conference B.
Nineteen members of Italy’s squad play their club rugby for Treviso but O’Shea does not expect any instant returns in terms of their success translating to the international level.
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“There’s no magic wand in life. It’s hard work. I’ve loved seeing it [Scotland’s project] evolve. I think it’s a great example to everyone who wants their nation to make the most of what it is,” he added.
On whether Scotland’s success has been instructive for him as he attempts to transform an Azzurri team ranked 15th in the world, O’Shea added: “Hugely, in terms of me trying to say, ‘look, this is a long haul and we are going to have some very tough times’.
“You can see in the performances of Treviso. We took over Zebre only a year ago and we have a plan in place. But let’s talk about the here and now. Against Scotland we know that, if we get our performance levels right, then we can be very competitive.”
Being regularly competitive would be a huge step for Italy, who suffered defeats by margins of 37, 31, 24 and 17 points last year, with a 29-27 loss to Scotland the only occasion on which they threatened an upset.
Their hopes will not be helped by the absence of Zebre full-back Matteo Minozzi, who was second only to Jacob Stockdale (7) in the Six Nations try-scoring charts last season, crossing four times.
O’Shea remains upbeat, though, and expects progress to be made in the coming weeks.
“We’ve had some good performances and some difficult days,” he said. “Our big step is to take a big scalp and get back up to that top table. That’s what everyone is working for. The more you put yourselves in the position, the luckier you’ll get. It’s that old Gary Player thing.
“With all the work we’re doing in Italian rugby, we will get there. But we know this Six Nations will be the most competitive so far.”
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