Conor O'Shea confirmed as new Italy coach

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Conor O'Shea.

Coach of Harlequins since 2010, the 45-year-old O’Shea will join up with Italy 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, picking up the wooden spoon on six occasions, 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 times and his reign finished with a dispiriting 67-14 hammering at the hands of Wales.

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INTERVIEW: Sevens icon Eric Rush looks to the future

Matt Jones 17/03/2016
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Incredible talent: Eric Rush.

Eric Rush lived the dream of all rugby union players by featuring in a World Cup. But sevens was the arena where a fearsome legacy was earned in the famous black of New Zealand.

The Kaeo-native’s celebrated career did not follow a simple path. He started as a flanker but switched to the wing aged 27, only making his All Blacks debut at 30. He was capped nine times, playing in the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, although the emergence of Jonah Lomu ended his chances.

It was in the open spaces of the shortened version of the game, however, where he became a legend. The trailblazer led New Zealand to gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia, turning full-time in 1999 with the establishment of the IRB Sevens World Series. Rush helped his country win the first six versions of the World Sevens Series and also inspired them to gold at the 2001 World Cup and the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

He retired in 2004 aged 39 after playing in more than 60 tournaments, since going on to work under iconic Kiwi sevens coach Sir Gordon Tietjens.

How big a deal is it back home that New Zealand retained the Rugby World Cup?

Rugby in New Zealand is a bit more important than in some other places around the world. It’s the only thing we can really say we’re the best at. Rugby’s a religion at home and it’s the first one we won away from home, so that’s why it’s such a big deal. This team has done something no-one else has done, which is cool.

How do the back-to-back world champions compare to other great All Blacks teams?

It’s hard to say but these guys have won back-to-back World Cups so it puts them on a pedestal no one else has been on in terms of the All Blacks. In my opinion they probably are the best team we’ve ever had. It’s hard to compare eras, but the two World Cups mean they are the best team that’s ever been. I think they’d be happy to be called the best team we’ve ever had.

Are you concerned a little with there being a transitional phase now that so many legends have retired?

We’ve lost six key guys and five of them played 100 Tests and Conrad Smith played 94 so that’s a lot of experience walking out. The great thing about the coaches is they’ve known that for a couple of years, so they’ve started working on the next layer of talent.

They’ll have some bumps in the road but the expectations won’t change. It’s what it means to be an All Black, you’ve still got to win. It’s pretty unfair I guess because teams now are judged every four years, but that doesn’t count in New Zealand. It’s every game. We probably won’t be quite as successful the next four years but by the next World Cup the new guys that come in will have that 30, 40, 50 games under their belts.

Who’s the best guy to replace Dan Carter?

I think Aaron Cruden’s probably the guy who will slip in. He’s a bit more reliable on the kicking and he runs the game a bit better. Beauden Barrett off the bench is unbelievable because his pace catches a lot of people off guard and they haven’t seen a lot of him so don’t know what to expect.

They’ve got Lima Sopoaga too who I was surprised didn’t go to the World Cup. There’s a bit of depth there.

Who will fill Richie McCaw’s shoes, in terms of at open-side flanker and captain?

Positionally, Sam Cane’s the guy at the moment. Ardie Savea is a young fella who hasn’t got the experience that Sam does but he’s a standout. He’s Julian’s little brother and he’s in the sevens squad. He was a standout for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby last year and he’ll be there before long.

Blake Gibson too will come through this year. Richie was an awesome captain and the guys would lie down in traffic for him, but I never thought we’d replace Buck Shelford. Then Sean Fitzpatrick came along and McCaw. Kieran Read’s the heir apparent and he holds the same manner in that team. They’re both humble, don’t talk too much and get out there.

‘A chief is known by his deeds’ is an old New Zealand saying, and that’s what those two guys do.

Will Australia, South Africa and Argentina now be thinking ‘this is our time’?

For sure, of course that’s going to happen. The Aussies have started doing that already and (head coach Michael) Cheika’s done an amazing job. The gap isn’t that big.

South Africa’s the team, but they’re losing guys too. Four or five will go out of that team, the same for the Wallabies too, so it’s about the quality of the young guys coming through.

You were out in the UAE for the Dubai Sevens and played here numerous times. What are some of your best memories?

I first played here when the pitch was sand. I played for the Bahrain Warblers when there was only one pitch. They used to put oil on it so it didn’t get in your eyes. It took about an hour to get that stuff off but from those beginnings to what it is now is chalk and cheese. It’s gone on and on and it’s the second biggest tournament on the circuit now.

Hong Kong’s number one and is the spiritual home of the game but Dubai’s ahead of Wellington if you ask me. I know the guys like coming here.

New Zealand had a sticky start in Dubai but have recovered to win three of the five legs of the World Series so far. Are they favourites for Olympic gold in Rio?

You start thinking like that, it’s a sure-fire way of losing. The circuit this year is about getting our guys who haven’t played much up to speed and if we can get to the final stages we’ve got a chance.

It’s more competitive now than when I played. It used to be us and Fiji but now six or seven teams can win it and all of the best teams will be there. Our guys will pull out all the stops and we have a chance but I’m not going to say we’ll win it.

We will put ourselves in the best possible position and we have the best coach (Sir Gordon Tietjens) that’s ever lived coaching us so that gives us a bit of an advantage.

Tietjens is rumoured to be retiring after the Olympics. Would you be interested in replacing him?

I keep an eye on young fellas for Tietj. I’d love to coach a team but I don’t think it’s the right time at the moment. I’ve got a business now and that’s taken up all my time in the last five years.

He says he’s going to finish after the Olympics but I’ll believe that when I see it. He made me coach a provincial side back home and I wanted to do that too just to see if I could coach. When Tietj retires I’ll have a look at things.

I think there’ll be a few kitchens around the world who’ll be happy to see him go as he went off on a few who brought out fried stuff.

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Roosters coach Robinson backs Dubai for rugby league expansion

Alam Khan 5/03/2016
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Impressed: Trent Robinson.

Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson believes Dubai would be a perfect place to host a World Cup 9s competition and help rugby league grow.

The NRL outfit enjoyed a pre-season training camp in the UAE before their World Club Series win over English side St Helens.

And Robinson and his players were impressed with the facilities at The Sevens and Dubai Sports City, as well as the ambition of the city to host sports teams and major events.

While an expanded World Club Series, or the World Club Challenge showdown between the NRL and English Super League champions, has been mooted, Robinson says Dubai would benefit from a global 9s tournament.

“There’s two things we have to think about when it comes to new areas hosting big tournaments like this,” he said. “We have to make sure our game is strong in the areas that it is in already, so we have to continue to develop that. But then we also have an obligation to expand our game into new areas.

“And definitely the 9s concept is good for areas like Dubai to begin with. You want your best players to come and showcase rugby league.

“For me, the 9s is our gateway into new areas, and it would be a bit like the Commonwealth Games, held every alternate couple of years. I think we should have a World Cup for the 9s and that’s definitely for new areas like Dubai.”

Robinson, though, says the Roosters would look at Dubai again should the opportunity for a trip arise again.

“We would definitely have a camp there again,” he added. “Great conditions, great facilities and it was a great stopover for us with the routes from Australia to England.

“Out of the 42 people on our trip, only two had been to Dubai before. It was a huge change for a lot of us and we got to experience a different culture which was great.”

Captain Jake Friend agreed, and added: “I’d never been, and everything was awesome. The Sevens facilities were great and the gym we trained at Sports City was one of the best I’ve seen.

“I’d love to go back and would welcome it if there was a World Club Series there. If that was ever the case I’d be keen. It’s a sort of meet-in-the-middle place, Dubai, for the Aussies and the English, and a concept that could be tossed around. We had a great time there, got some hard work done, and got to see a fair bit of Dubai.

“The more we can get rugby league out there, the better. With union and soccer being world games, it’s a challenge for us, and the more countries we can get rugby league in, the better. It would be great to have some sort of a series or competition in Dubai.”

Having crushed St Helens 38-12, the 13-time Premiership-winning Roosters begin their NRL campaign tomorrow with a derby against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, who have Sam Burgess back after his spell in rugby union.

“It’s a tough start, a tough competition and if you look at the teams and the player movements, like Sam coming back, then it’s probably more even than it’s ever been,” says Friend, whose side were Grand Final winners in 2013 and minor Premiers in 2014 and 2015.

“It’s difficult to pick one team out, but we want to be up there challenging again. We are focused on winning every game.

“Being champions, you just have to be consistent, work hard each week and have that bit of spark, you need star quality. Most of the top teams have it, one or two players you look to that can make a difference. I think we have that too.

“This year I’m excited to see how Blake Ferguson goes at full-back. He’s been training awesome and with Anthony Minichiello retiring we are looking to Blake to step up. He’s loving the role and it’s a big year for him. We hope he can be the next superstar – even though he thinks he is already. He’s an important part of our team.”

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