Italy boss Conor O’Shea springs surprise with Campagnaro in wing role

Conor O’Shea revealed a surprisingly inexperienced Italian starting XV for tomorrow’s match with Scotland at BT Murrayfield, with the obvious exceptions of Sergio Parisse and Leonardo Ghiraldini, who between them boast 233 international caps.

Italy head coach Conor O'Shea. Picture: David Rogers/Getty

Parisse, in fact, will surpass Brian O’Driscoll’s record of 65 Six Nations appearances.

The big surprise was that the classy Michele Campagnaro, a centre by trade, is plonked on the left wing, while English import David Sisi starts his first-ever international in the second row when many imagined him more as a breakaway.

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“It’s getting the best players on the pitch that we feel will do a job this weekend,” said O’Shea before expanding on his theme.

“We want to see Michele Campagnaro with the ball in his hands,” continued the Irishman. “We want him to have that kind of licence to get involved as much as he can off the wing. Just because you have a number on your back doesn’t mean you won’t see him in some of the start-up plays at outside centre.

“I’ve known David [Sisi] for a long time,” added O’Shea, moving the focus on to his new recruit. “He’s a guy who has mobility, but the minute he came over we said, ‘we see you as a second row’. That’s because the depth we have in Italian rugby in the back row is outstanding. So he’s dedicated his last years to getting bigger ears and playing in the second row.

“You know you’ve got a guy who’s got ball-playing ability. But we want him to be that traditional No 4. There’s always options but we’re excited by what David can bring to this team. He’s got a physical edge, he’s got an 80-minute engine but he’s got ball-playing 
ability as well.”

Italy field a breakaway at lock while Scotland have given the versatile Sam Skinner the 
No 6 jersey. It promises to be an intriguing contest, especially at the breakdown where, in 
the absence of Hamish Watson and John Barclay, Jamie 
Ritchie becomes the only turnover specialist – albeit no one man can win or lose that battle on his own.

Italy are fielding four effective breakaways in their forward pack so, might the breakdown offer them a toehold in this match?

“I think Sam Skinner is a bloke who’s so easily adaptable to [the back row],” said O’Shea.

“He’s an outstanding rugby player and he’s been a real catch for Scottish rugby to be able to move him up or down where they like, increase the lineout option. He’s a quality, quality player.”

O’Shea talks up Scotland’s prospects of victory, pointing to the half-backs, Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell, whom he says is playing “incredible rugby”.

“It’s a side that has got unbelievable threats,” O’Shea continued. “If you think Fiji lost by 50 points here and then went over and beat France. This Scottish team has the ability to really, really cut loose.

“Our job is to try to stay with them, take our chances and then create pressure mentally. If they get a buffer then the confidence begins to flow and you don’t want to play this Scottish team with a huge amount of confidence.”

O’Shea has yet to win a Six Nations match since taking over the Italian reins in the middle of 2016 and he is a little elusive about where his team can carve themselves a way into this match.

“I know when we play to our best we’re very competitive. I know people look at results but we’ve beaten Fiji, Georgia, Japan in the second Test. We were very competitive against Australia and the game could have turned our way,” he says.

“Ball-in-play time doesn’t worry us now. A year ago, two years ago, it might have worried us, but we’ll get around the pitch and we’ll try to play ourselves. Where the toehold comes is… talk about that 
Australia game, that game was decided by two or three key moments [Italy had two tries disallowed].

“These things change energy and last year in Rome, when we got opportunities we took them. When you talk about toeholds, it begins and ends with the pack. Always has, always will. But it’s also when you get those chances, can you take them to give you that belief and energy?”

We will find out tomorrow.