Rome -Former Ireland fullback Conor O’Shea was on Friday named as the new Italy coach, taking over from Frenchman Jacques Brunel in a move described as a “crucial turning point” for Italian rugby.
Coach of Harlequins since 2010, the 45-year-old O’Shea will join up with Italy in June when his contract with the London club expires at the end of this season.
“As I said when I announced that I would be leaving, I feel the end of this season is the right time for me to take on a new challenge and I am honoured, humbled and excited that I will be working with everyone in Italian Rugby to ensure they can achieve on the undoubted potential they have as a rugby nation,” said O’Shea.
“I spent many years in the 1990s playing against a great Italian side and I know there is the ability and will within this current group of players and the FIR to ensure that the current team can become the best Italian team in its history, but that is for another time.
“For me now there is a job to finish here at Harlequins and to ensure we finish this season as well as we can and see if we can add some more silverware to the trophy cabinet at this great club.”
O’Shea will be assisted by former England back Mike Catt, who will oversee the backline, and Stephen Aboud, former technical director at the Irish federation.
He faces a real challenge in Italy, with the team having leaked 29 tries in the recently-finished Six Nations in which they took home the wooden spoon after five straight defeats.
Italy have won just 12 out of 85 matches since becoming the ‘sixth’ nation in 2000, finishing bottom for an 11th time in 17 seasons, and this year saw repeated talk of introducing relegation to the tournament, notably after the showings of second-tier Georgia and Romania at last year’s World Cup.
Under Brunel’s four-year term, Italy won just four matches in the Six Nations and his reign finished with a dispiriting 67-14 hammering at the hands of Wales.
Italian federation president Alfredo Gavazzi said: “The appointment of this new head coach, his assistant and the head of training is a crucial turning point for the Italian Rugby Federation.
“We have identified three of the highest-profile figures, three men who are in possession of what we believe are the most suitable qualities that can contribute to the development of our team.”
Catt returns to rugby after leaving his post as an England assistant coach in December following the host nation’s spectacular 2015 World Cup flop when they failed to progress beyond the pool stage.
Catt, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree all departed the Rugby Football Union, with new England head coach Eddie Jones recruiting Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard to work with him.