12 Dec, 11:30
The Ireland Under-19 team to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill this Saturday afternoon (kick-off 2.30pm) has been announced.
Keith Wood talks to rugbyhalloffame.com about his career ahead of tonight's fifth International Rugby Hall of Fame dinner in London.
RHOF: How do you feel about being chosen to join the likes of Gareth Edwards, Mike Gibson and Philippe Sella in the Hall of Fame?
KW: I obviously feel very honoured to be invited to join such a select group. As a youngster I watched Gareth Edwards at the end of his career on television and could only admire him from afar, as it were. Then years later I watched Philippe Sella but also played against him. Their class and the excitement they brought to the game speaks for itself. As for me joining them in the Hall of Fame it's a startling realisation. I'm never quite sure how I'm supposed to react to such news. What I can say is that it is a phenomenal feeling. Looking back over my playing career I consider myself fortunate to have been part of top-class rugby when it was both amateur and professional.
RHOF: Who was your inspiration as a player?
KW: Rather disturbingly, I can reveal that my inspiration was not a hooker, or even a forward but Serge Blanco! That was for one reason more than anything else - the sheer enjoyment he brought to the game, a marvellous expression of everything the game represents.
RHOF: From your own career, do any particular matches or moments stand out?
KW: From an Ireland point of view it has to be our game against France at Stade de France in 2000. We made history by being the first Irish team to win in Paris for 28 years but, more than that, it was the day when Brian O'Driscoll confirmed his arrival on the international stage. He scored a hat-trick of tries that day and the longer the game went on the more he broke the French hearts. When he raced in for his final try no one could get near him, they were literally dead on their feet. It was a pleasure to be on the same field as him.
Inevitably the British and Irish Lions also mean a lot to me. Touring with the 1997 squad was a totally new experience. Ireland was struggling a bit at the time and suddenly I found myself in a different playing environment. By the time of the first Test against South Africa the sense of trust in the team was unique. There was a huge level of competence throughout the squad and we made precious few mistakes. It's an incredible feeling to know that you can conserve some energy because you trust your players to do what you had set out to do. Four years later in Australia we almost did it again - and certainly did so for one-and-a-half games against the Wallabies before we let the tour slip from us. The other great thing was that after my first Lions tour I became very conscious that Ireland, too, was growing up and we were beginning to match that level of competence.
Aussie lock John Langford congratulating Keith Wood on his try for Munster against Saracens in the 2000 Heineken Cup. Wood's late effort, converted by Ronan O'Gara, handed Munster a crucial 31-30 Pool 4 win which helped them on the way to the knock-out stages and the Cup final, where their hopes were dashed by Northampton (9-8).
RHOF: Who was your toughest opponent on the field of play?
KW: That has to be the Welsh hooker, Garin Jenkins. He was an incredible shape, about six or seven inches shorter than me and very difficult to pack down against. People say that I don't have a neck - well, Garin's neck seemed to be somewhere in the middle of his chest! He was packing down so low that it was almost impossible to get to grips with him. He was truly a little bulldog.
RHOF: Is it important that the great players and deeds of the past are recognised in the Hall of Fame?
KW: We need to celebrate achievements and personalities in our sport. In our playing days we absolutely live the game but when it's over, it's over. As ex-players we often meet and have a beer and the memories linger on. One of things about rugby is that we recognise the qualities of the players we've been alongside or against and having something like the Hall of Fame is an added bonus.
RHOF: What have you heard about the Hall of Fame from previous inductees?
KW: I have seen it featured in the media over the years and when I received news of my induction this year I was both surprised and exhilarated. I suppose it is something of an exclusive club and to become part of it is a great honour.
He did have hair once: Keith Wood, back in 1994, attempts to hand off his successor in the Irish number 2 jersey, Shane Byrne, while playing for Garryowen against Blackrock College in the All-Ireland League.