By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Conor O’Shea hopes Italy are keeping an eye out for his possible replacement as national rugby coach, even if the Irishman has been assured his job is safe and plans to stay.
The Italian federation this week denied French media reports that they had approached Frenchmen Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit with a view to the pair taking over after this year’s World Cup in Japan.
“Rumours without foundation: all our support for Conor, his staff and the entire team for the Six Nations 2019,” Italian federation president Alfredo Gavazzi said in French on his Twitter feed.
O’Shea told reporters at the Six Nations launch on Wednesday that such speculation was ‘part and parcel of the game’ and he was not bothered.
“It’s what you expect. I spoke to the president… Do they want me to stay on? Yes,” he said.
“Would I expect them to be looking at alternatives? Well they say they’re not, but I hope they are because if they’re not then they’ll be slammed for not looking at alternatives,” added the coach.
Italy play Scotland at Murrayfield on Feb. 2 in their opening Six Nations game and O’Shea said that clash was the only concern he had.
“I can’t wait to lead this team to the Six Nations, the World Cup and beyond. What will be will be a decision for me, my family, the federation and it is not about me,” he added.
“It is about Italian rugby and I said to the president that the next decision has to be what is the right thing.”
The Italians have had a torrid time in recent seasons, managing a solitary win, over Scotland, in 25 games over the last five years.
They have also beaten Georgia, Japan away, and Fiji but the Six Nations is another level altogether.
With New Zealand and South Africa in their World Cup pool it is set to be another daunting year for O’Shea, with Murrayfield already looking like a potential high-water mark.
But O’Shea viewed the challenge as much more of a long-term affair and was under no illusions about what might be in store.
“I talk journeys but our only focus at the moment is delivering a massively intense performance, execute properly against Scotland and see where that takes us,” he said.
“We’re not stupid, we know the scale of the challenge so for us to talk about wins and losses… we’re prepared to win, we want to win, we’re competitive people but we want to deliver our best and then we’ll see.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)