By Colm O’Connor
IRELAND must learn how to be leaders on the field to have any hope of making their mark in the Six Nations, according to former captain Keith Wood.
The Irish failed to live up to the hype around them in last year’s tournament and then struggled throughout the three November internationals.
Wood said: "The biggest thing for me in the autumn Tests was that they were devoid of leadership.
"They need to go from relying on just three leaders to having 15 in a game." Their cause, though, was not helped by the absence of a series of key players, including captain and talisman Brian O’Driscoll. But Wood does not feel his countrymen can use that as an excuse.
He added: "It showed there aren’t enough leaders throughout the squad. Admittedly Simon Easterby [who played throughout the November internationals] is a very good leader but one man can’t do it on his own. "There was no one else for him to rely on - the rest simply failed to step forward."
"The last couple of weeks have really regenerated my belief in Ireland’s potential," he said. "Ireland perform better when the provincial sides are playing well, although that can’t be seen as a complete gauge. In November the front five really struggled, but Munster more than held their own against a vicious Sale pack the other weekend.
"We’re almost getting to a stage where we have strength in depth," he said, "and that gets a bit confusing for us Irishmen. There are some bright players coming through, among them Barry Murphy, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble to name just a few. But you can’t use the Six Nations to suddenly throw loads of youngsters in at once. It’s too big a tournament and really deserves respect. But, with one eye on the World Cup, they need to be gradually brought into the squad. It’s all about getting the right balance."