Leinster back row Rhys Ruddock says he is focusing on being more effective with the ball in hand and in defence as he looks to force his way back into the Ireland squad.
Ruddock travelled to the World Cup in Japan last autumn and was one of Ireland's most impressive performers despite the quarter-final exit. The 29-year-old continued that strong form into the club season with Leinster but despite being named in Andy Farrell's first Ireland training camp over Christmas, Ruddock was a surprise omission from the Six Nations squad.
The team has since won two games from two while Ruddock has been on ice, with Leinster having a three-week break ahead of this Saturday's PRO14 clash with the Cheetahs at the RDS.
Speaking on The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast in association with Land Rover, Ruddock admits that being left out by Andy Farrell was particularly tough to take after his good run at club level.
"Obviously it was hugely disappointing not to be involved in the Six Nations," Ruddock said.
"At this time of year you are always buzzing to try and make the squad. There was such excitement as well with the new coaches coming in and I had a bit of time with them in December and I was hoping to put my hand up and be involved.
"It was definitely a really disappointing period. I was a bit down about it but I spoke to Faz [Andy Farrell] and had a good conversation and got a bit of direction. I felt that although I was playing fairly well, I wasn't playing my best rugby. There are a few areas in particular that I was really excited about the opportunity to get a lot better and we agreed that would be something that could get me into the squad in future.
"That kind of clarity is good."
Ruddock is well-known for his high work-rate during games but the back row admits that he is now focusing on making stronger carries and tackles rather than a high number of each.
"The stuff that Faz relayed to me was along the same lines of what I was thinking myself," Ruddock said.
"As disappointed as I was to not be in the squad, at least it reinforced my own belief about where I needed to improve. It is double the reason to go after those areas now.
"I just felt over the most recent games that I was getting through a lot of work and working really hard - and that tends to be a staple of my game and I put in a lot of carries and tackles - but I just felt like I was less effective. Not just making a number of tackles but how effective I can be and the physicality I can bring on both sides of the ball, in terms of winning metres after contact and leg drive. Not just getting a number of carries but being more effective on each one."
Since being left out by Andy Farrell, Ruddock has consulted with his Leinster coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster and has identified a few areas where he can improve.
"Defensively, there are a couple of little things," Ruddock said.
"I'm trying not to cover three defenders and then not being committed to the tackle, and trying to trust the guys around you more and then being 100% committed to the tackle. On the attacking, being more dynamic and my body height is a big one. When I am playing well and carrying well, I tend to be lower to the ground. So I'm just trying to be more dynamic when moving onto the ball in the first couple of steps."