Former Ireland captain Keith Wood is backing Jerry Flannery to rediscover the form that saw him take the Six Nations championship by storm last year.
Flannery was undoubtedly the find of the last season, on the Test scene, as he nailed down a starting berth for both Munster and Ireland.
The Limerick man was ever-present during the 2006 Six Nations as Ireland swept to Triple Crown glory. He tooks his international caps tally to nine by playing against New Zealand and Australia on the summer tour but picked up a shoulder problem Down Under which required surgery and a long and frustrating lay-off.
With his fit-again Munster team-mate Frankie Sheahan and Ulster’s Rory Best sharing the Irish number 2 jersey during the Guinness Autumn Series, Flannery, having completed his comeback, now finds himself with a fight on his hands for a starting place for province and country.
Ironically both Sheahan and Best have reported calf complaints this week and Flannery, who has only made two appearances off the bench for Munster this season, may be pressed back into Test action sooner than he thought.
Whether that is against Wales on Sunday week remains to be seen, but Wood, who helped fine-tune Flannery’s game in 2005 by providing him with private tuition, believes the Shannon clubman has the ability to top his performances of last year.
“Flannery is a very fine player and he had a fantastic season last year. He came out of nowhere and he was easily the best hooker in the Six Nations,” explained the 58-times capped Wood, who turns 35 on Saturday.
“I think he had an excellent start to his international career. He got injured and missed the autumn but he has got back in now.
“And I think it is lucky in a way. He will be factored in but it will be harder now for him and he has to re-find that form.”
The former Lion, who will be on punditry duty for the BBC during the Six Nations, reckons Ireland are deservedly favourites to lift the trophy come March 17.
“Ireland will be confident of winning. Of course you get momentum from a campaign like Ireland had in the autumn. The game against Australia was a game of confidence. They know what they can do and they can carry it over into the Six Nations.
“This is the best Irish side I have seen and an aggressive and positive performance should be enough for them to win against Wales and go on to have a good tournament,” he added.
‘They will compete for the title as they’re the most complete side in the competition.”