LONDON (AP) — This is no time to be talking about dumping Italy from the Six Nations, coach Conor O'Shea says.
He's in favour of expansion.
O'Shea was reacting on Saturday, a day before Italy plays England at Twickenham, to debate about his side's worth in the championship.
Italy has lost its last nine outings in the Six Nations. In its most recent match in Rome, Ireland racked up 63 points, the third highest in the championship's 134-year history.
Georgia, ranked above Italy, is considered the best alternative side.
But Six Nations chief executive John Feehan reiterated during the week they were "perfectly happy" with the status quo, and weren't considering promotion, relegation or any other change.
"Italy has earned the right to be in the Six Nations because they've had some massive wins against top tier nations as well as bad days," O'Shea said.
"It's sad when I look at the Romania of the 1970s and 80s and see what they were allowed to become.
"Look at Scotland beating Wales today. Would you have said five years ago they'd be in the position of beating Ireland and Wales? They've been through a real struggle but are now coming out of the other side.
"We need the game to grow and expand. If we don't expand the game, we'll kill it because there will only be three or four sides left.
"We shouldn't be reducing the game, it's not as if we have a million countries playing rugby. If we don't expand, we'll be passing on a terrible game to our kids.
"It's brilliant what Georgia are doing, but it baffles me when people want to contract the game.
"It's frustrating to hear people talk about relegation when our job should be to make Italian rugby strong. We need support at a difficult time."
Overall, Italy has 12 wins and a draw in 87 matches, with most expecting another big loss to England on Sunday.
"We know we're under the microscope, we know there will be tough times," said O'Shea, who has been in charge only since June. "We're not as good as we think and not as bad as people think.
"I know some people will be going to Twickenham expecting England to score 60 or 70 and that might happen, but we want to give a performance that shows what we're about. We have to change the structure of Italian rugby in order to catch up with the best in the world."