Conor O’Shea is certain that Italy have the mental strength to compete with the very best at the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
The Azzurri have finished sixth in Rugby’s Greatest Championship for each of the past three years, picking up just one point in 2018 when they narrowly lost to Scotland 29-27 thanks to a last-gasp Greig Laidlaw penalty.
But that campaign is now behind Italy, who proved their ability to bounce back by enjoying a largely positive year of rugby, beating the likes of Georgia, Japan and Fiji.
Italy open up their 2019 offensive with a tough trip to BT Murrayfield in Round One, with Scotland undefeated at home in the Championship since 2016.
But O’Shea is urging his side to make use of their growing mental resilience and play without fear as they attempt to make their mark this time around.
“Scotland will be full of confidence, especially given the level of domestic success this season after what Richard Cockerill achieved with Edinburgh in the Champions Cup,” said the Italy chief.
“We certainly know that we need to play to the maximum of our ability if we are going to be competitive against these top sides.
“We’ve done well over the past 18 months, beating Georgia, Japan and Fiji. We have been incredibly competitive when we have played at our best and we need to translate this to the Six Nations.
“I want my team to play without fear. This is easier said than done but it reaps rewards in the future.
“We need to deliver the intensity we have lacked before.
“We know the challenge. We are very realistic but we also believe we can compete.”
The last time Italy won a Six Nations game was three tournaments ago against Scotland in 2015 but O’Shea praised the mental toughness of his players and wants them to continue believing in order to register success this time around.
“The mental challenge is always the biggest obstacle for us,” said O’Shea.
“We always have to put up with the same questions – are you good enough? Are you better now?
“We need to be mentally resilient and players like Sergio (Parisse) have proved we are by maintaining his enthusiasm, energy and belief every time he represents his country.
“We need this from everyone. It won’t be easy but we need everyone to keep believing.
“Anything is possible – but not if we stop believing in ourselves.
“This team give so much every time they are on the pitch. The results don’t always reflect that but my players should always hold their head high for their belief and effort.
“I think the Italian people should be incredibly proud but the biggest mental boost will be winning games of rugby at the Six Nations.”