Wood insists pressure is on O'Sullivan
PA Sport
January 16, 2008

Keith Wood claims Eddie O'Sullivan's coaching reputation hinges on the RBS 6 Nations with another fiasco spelling the end of his Ireland reign.

The Irish Rugby Football Union opted to retain O'Sullivan despite the nation's abysmal performance at the World Cup that concluded with a pitiful group exit.

Failure to produce a significant improvement in the Six Nations would render his position untenable with his IRFU paymasters faced with little option but to swing the axe.

Ireland great Wood, who won 58 caps, believes an impressive two months will prove O'Sullivan to be a man capable of overcoming adversity, enhancing his credibility as a coach.

But the popular former Lions hooker, Brian O'Driscoll's predecessor as Ireland skipper, admits anything else would do irreparable damage and force the end of
his seven-year tenure.

``Undoubtedly Eddie made mistakes at the World Cup,'' said Wood, the official Bushmills Whiskey Ambassador.

``Some of the selections he made for the squad didn't give him the flexibility he needed during the tournament.

``Also, he needed to sort out what was wrong with the players' attitude as there were clearly problems in this department.

``Now he must face up to the errors that were made, in private, and realise that he can't make them again. If he achieves that, then he's a good coach.

``If he can then magic something fantastic out of the season he becomes a very good coach because he will have faced difficult times and come through them.

``Maybe some of that adversity was of his own making but that doesn't really matter, if he comes through this challenge then he will be a better coach for it.

``How the team reacts now will also reflect on his ability as a coach.

``We didn't perform at the World Cup and if that continues, then we have to make the change with the coach. The IRFU did the right thing after the World Cup.

``They looked at Ireland's performance and asked if the coach could rectify it and decided he could. But if it turns out he can't then justifiably he'll be under pressure.''

O'Sullivan's battle to save his job will be decided on the pitch where he hopes his loyalty will pay dividends.

The presence of Cian Healy, Jonathan Sexton, Luke Fitzgerald and Jamie Heaslip in the 33-man Six Nations squad, named yesterday, provided an injection of youth but whether they are much more than window dressing remains to be seen.

The 49-year-old could still select his first-choice 22 from the World Cup crew, minus the unavailable Paul O'Connell, Denis Hickie and Simon Best - a decision that would be met with groans of despair in some quarters.

The team demanded a shake-up in France, but O'Sullivan refused to make sweeping changes and Wood insists he is right to give the World Cup flops a shot at redemption.

``These guys deserve a chance to prove themselves. The entire team played badly in the World Cup and that suggests it wasn't only them to blame,'' he said.

``Form is obviously an important factor when it comes to selection but at the same time you need a core that you can mould with.

``If some guys aren't pulling their weight then make changes, but drip feed them in and don't make wholesale alterations.

``And if a new player does get a chance, don't just give them five minutes at the end because that means nothing.''

Wood admits his surprise at the exclusion of Leinster openside Shane Jennings from yesterday's squad.

``Shane Jennings should have been in the 33 - the decision to leave him out was surprising,'' he said.

``It was good to see Johnny O'Connor in the squad, although I haven't seen him play this season.

``But I think Jennings offers plenty - something that we don't have in the 33 that O'Sullivan picked.''

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