Rugby Union: Emergence of Wood a consolation for Ireland

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A TOUR record of two wins from eight matches, completed by Saturday's second Test defeat in Sydney, looks dismal enough, but both Ireland and their hosts, Australia, are convinced that one player has established his credentials.

Keith Wood, the 22-year-old Garryowen hooker, followed up his debut at Ballymore with another outstanding performance at the Sydney football stadium.

'I would not have given the man of the match to Tim Gavin,' said the Irish coach, Gerry Murphy. 'Wood has been the best player on the field in both Tests.'

Wood, the son of the former Ireland and British Lions prop, Gordon Wood, played more hurling than rugby at school. He has made up for lost time this season, establishing himself on the substitutes' bench during the Five Nations' Championship and then forcing his way past Terry Kingston and into the Irish side on tour.

The Wallaby coach, Bob Dwyer, and captain, Michael Lynagh, who became the first player to score 800 points in Tests, selected Wood as Ireland's best player of the tour.

'He has had an outstanding couple of Tests,' Dwyer said. 'He has to do it for a few more years yet, but he looks an absolute world XV selection.'

Wood impressed again here with his remarkable mobility and knack of being involved constructively in aspects of play not normally associated with hookers. However, he is by no means the finished product. His enthusiasm and aggression can be applied indiscriminately, as when he applied an elbow to the Australian scrum- half, Peter Slattery, at the end of the first half on Saturday.

Other good signs for Ireland were the form of another player Lynagh saw plenty of, the wing forward, David Corkery, and a promising new centre in Jonathan Bell.

Those bonuses were nothing like enough to swing a Test series away from the world champions, for whom this match highlighted both strengths and weaknesses.

An injury-enforced new pairing in the centres emphasised an embarrassment of riches in that position, with Richard Tombs playing solidly at inside centre and Daniel Herbert making a debut outside him that was little short of stunning, with a try after four minutes of a generally invigorating display.

Slattery had another uncertain game at scrum-half, however, especially when he tried to probe the blind side, and the absence of a convincing replacement for Nick Farr-Jones could yet be Australia's Achilles heel in the World Cup next year.

Australia: Tries Herbert, Wilson, Tabua; Conversion Lynagh; Penalties Lynagh 5. Ireland: Tries Clohessy, Francis; Conversion O'Shea; Penalty O'Shea; Drop O'Shea.

AUSTRALIA: M Burke; D Smith, D Herbert (all Queensland), R Tombs, D Campese (both New South Wales); M Lynagh (capt), P Slattery (both Queensland); A Daly, P Kearns, E McKenzie (all NSW), J Eales, G Morgan, I Tabua (all Queensland), T Gavin (NSW), D Wilson (Queensland). Replacement: R Constable (Queensland) for Smith, 74.

IRELAND: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); S Geoghegan (Bath), J Bell (Ballymena), P Danaher (Garryowen), N Woods (Blackrock); E Elwood (Lansdowne), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); J Fitzgerald (Young Munster), K Wood (Garryowen), P Clohessy (Young Munster), G Fulcher (Cork C), N Francis (Old Belvedere), B Robinson (Ballymena), P Johns (Dungannon), D Corkery (Cork C).

Referee: J Dume (France).

France suffered the first defeat of their New Zealand tour yesterday, going down 27-23 to North Harbour in Auckland.

North Harbour: Tries Osborne, Strachan; Conversion Burton; Penalties Burton 5. France: Tries Merle, Delaigue; Conversions Bellot 2; Penalty Bellot; Drop goals Macabiau, Bellot.