Rugby Union: Wood odds-on to take one against the head

five nations focus: Ireland's new hooker is tipped to give England's Br ian Moore a hard time on Saturday. David Hughes reports

"He can be to Irish rugby what Phil Kearns and Sean Fitzpatrick have been to Australian and New Zealand rugby," his coach, the former All Black Andy Leslie, says. "A truly outstanding prospect," according to Bob Dwyer, the Wallabies coach. They ar e talking about someone making his Five Nations debut against England on Saturday.

At times it is easy to forget that Keith Wood, the man-boy in the middle of the Irish front-row, is still only 22, that his international career has barely taken off. But what a take-off. Two irreverent bows against Australia in the summer, where he traded blows with the mighty Kearns; a belated but shuddering arrival in Munster's all-conquering Grand Slam side this season, and in between he was the central plank in the Barbarians' all-Irish front row which felled South Africa.

In truth, maybe it should have come before now. But Wood was kept at bay last season by the incumbent Munster and Irish hooker, Terry Kingston, when perhaps also there was a subconscious tendency by selectors to keep the Garryowen tearaway wrapped in cotton wool and preserved for this campaign.

No matter the opposition, Wood plays it the same way: all or nothing; fast and furious; very hard, but fair. It is in the genes. He is the youngest son of Gordon Wood, who propped 29 times for Ireland (1954-61) and twice for the Lions in New Zealand ('59). His frighteningly fearless approach has made Leslie wonder aloud if Wood has "any respect for his body".

"I wouldn't go that far," Wood says. "It is actually something I get from my father. I must say I wouldn't like to go out on the field and not give my best. I find that whenever I go near a field in any way lackadaisical, I tend to get injured or you could injure someone, y'know, anything could bloody happen."

He has already shipped his share of knocks. At every pause in the game he is seen crouched down, then stretching his legs or swaying gingerly on his hips.

"I think `Jesus, my back is at me'. Then I get the ball. Off you go for 10 yards and you don't feel a thing. Then you stop and think: `Jesus, it's at me again','' he says, in mild wonderment himself. The explanation is simple enough. "I love running. I'dbe a liar if I said I didn't."

Born to run, and born to play rugby. Wood was 10 when his father passed away, 21 years after Gordon Wood's last cap. There are no memories of seeing him play, and no videos in their absence. However, by playing for Garryowen, Munster and Ireland (only the Lions to come?), he poignantly follows in his father's footsteps.

"It's a huge source of pride. It's a pleasure to stop and talk to people who knew him, to hear about him and his deeds. The more I hear about him the better I feel, and everybody has great respect for him, which is lovely."

Not that all the early signs were auspicious. He was a small and unexceptional half-back at St Munchin's in Limerick - "as bad a scrum-half as could be" and "too greedy at out-half".

After an unremarkable switch to hooker in his final school year, his latent talent was developed at Garryowen, where he came under the wing of their inspirational Kiwi No 8, Brent Anderson, in the club's 1992 All-Ireland league-winning side.

The climb since then has been inexorable, culminating in his breakthrough Down Under. That was an eye-opener, figuratively, and almost literally, leading to the less than flattering moniker of Fester, after the mad, bald uncle in the Addams Family.

"Before the first match I got my head virtually shaved, so I almost had the dome of a head that Fester has," Wood explained. "Then we played the first match and I got a cut over the eye [requiring 17 stitches] and two black eyes. So with the black eyes, the big cheeks and the bald head, I got Fester. And I can't get rid of it."

Wood returned home straining at the leash, eager to put into practice the training methods he had discovered in Australia. But a shoulder injury set him back, prompting the self-critical analysis of his form as "moderate".

It did not show against the South Africans - "the best atmosphere and the least preparation. It was basic as possible. Robert Jones was superb and another factor was them scoring so soon. It jolted us into action and we closed up straight away. Suddenly we were like a club side."

This weekend England come calling. "This match will answer an awful lot. Our average age must have dropped three or four years since last year, with five new under-23s in the team. We have an awful lot to prove in the Irish team, and as individuals."

Wood, his reputation preceding him along with that of a relatively new but celebrated front row, makes his Five Nations bow against Brian Moore. "This match has been hyped up into a battle of the front rows, and within that a battle between myself and Brian Moore.

"But no match is that simple and I genuinely never concentrate on my opposite number. People keep saying it to me, like they're expecting fireworks. Whether they'll be disappointed or not, I don't know. Maybe there'll be a bit of fireworks."

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own