Conor O’Shea led Harlequins to the European Rugby Challenge Cup final in Lyon last year, but now he is on the brink of his Six Nations bow with Italy.

There are not many who know European rugby better than the former Ireland international. O’Shea  takes the plunge against Wales in Rome on Sunday as he aims to bring success to the Azzuri in the Test arena. And he has made a plea for the rugby world not to disrespect his charges.

“Just see the way teams play. You get a penalty against Italy, what do they do? They kick in the corner.  They never kick to goal,” said O’Shea.

“Do they play differently against us? Of course they do, because they play with freedom in their minds. That’s what we said before the South African game, ‘you watch the pressure begin to reverse when they see we’re not going away’, because teams know when a team is able to go for 80 minutes and after a pretty bad defeat to the All Blacks I came away saying that’s the best defeat we could ever have because we actually showed we had the ability intensity-wise and physicality to go 80 minutes.

“When you read newspapers and hear what’s said about Italian rugby it is disrespectful because it doesn’t give a full understanding of how special the history is and we should be looking to nourish and not let wither on the vine an incredible rugby country.”

Italy’s starting XV contains 13 players from the country’s pair of professional clubs. Zebre and Benetton Treviso may have exited their European competitions at the pool stages, but their players have shown they are right at home in the blue shirt. They claimed a historic first win over South Africa last Autumn, and O’Shea is hoping a change in culture can help achieve success on all fronts.

He said:  “There is a negative culture around the team because these players are told constantly that they are not very good. It then becomes very difficult to become positive. What do we need to concentrate on – not feeling sorry for ourselves and to start to look around and see some of the players we have.”