Wood thrives in a bruising comeback

Ireland 35 Wales 12
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The Independent Online

Keith Wood, playing his first Test since a World Cup qualifier in Siberia 11 months ago, did whatever was necessary here to complete his latest and last comeback. Out of contract with Harlequins and unattached, the World Cup in Australia will be his swansong.

"I was sucking diesel by the time I came off," the hooker said. Wood can go further than most on fresh air and if his memory was just a little bit confused at times it was understandable.

Restored to the captaincy in place of Brian O'Driscoll, Wood was not completely synchronised with his line-out calls, on one occasion issuing a code word to his forwards that had become obsolete.

"Overall I was pretty pleased," Wood said. "There were some big hits in the scrum and I got clobbered a few times so I will be very sore for the next few days. But there's no bad pains. I'm happy to have got through it.''

Ireland, who are in a tough World Cup group with Australia and Argentina, scored five tries, all through their forwards, three from their locks, Paul O'Connell and Malcolm O'Kelly. "I had to remind myself at times not to get too frustrated by our mistakes because it was the first game of the season," Eddie O'Sullivan, the Ireland coach, said. "It's hard to start a season without making mistakes and it's extra hard in a Test match. You have to accept that you are going to make errors in those circumstances. The scrum was sloppy but the line-out fired very well apart from a couple of hiccups. All in all it was a pretty good day out.''

With Ronan O'Gara struggling to make the final World Cup squad, what will worry O'Sullivan is that his No 10, David Humphreys, limped off with a knee injury. Anthony Foley damaged a hamstring and Peter Stringer took a bang to his shoulder.

Wales, fielding a side that will be considerably changed for England's visit to Cardiff on Saturday, were quoted by a Dublin bookmaker at 10-11 - with a 25-point lead. Any Welshman shameless enough to accept such an insulting bet would have got home by two points. Not that there were many Welshmen here. The attendance was below 20,000. Not even Wood's final appearance at this ground could compete with an all-Ireland hurling semi-final at Croke Park.

Whereas O'Sullivan chose his strongest team, Steve Hansen, the Wales coach, opted to blood a number of youngsters, the pick of whom was the flanker Richard Parks. This was Wales' 10th consecutive defeat but Hansen saw it as an acceptable sacrifice.

"The important thing was that quite a few of the younger players were given Test experience. Our handling was poor at times but overall it was a good way to start these matches. There were one or two things on the positive side and one or two on the negative.''

Two negatives do not make a positive.

IRELAND: G Murphy (Leicester); T Howe (Ulster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), K Maggs (Bath), A Horgan (Munster); D Humphreys (Ulster), P Stringer (Munster); R Corrigan (Leinster), K Wood (unattached, capt), S Best (Ulster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), A Quinlan (Munster), K Gleeson (Leinster), A Foley (Munster). Replacements: D Wallace (Munster) for Foley, 40; J Fitzpatrick (Castres) for Best, 62; G Dempsey (Leinster) for Humphreys, 62; D O'Callaghan (Munster) for O'Kelly, 68; S Byrne (Leinster) for Wood, 68; G Easterby (Rotherham) for Stringer, 77; G D'Arcy (Leinster) for Howe, 77.

WALES: N Robinson (Cardiff); G Evans (Llanelli), J Robinson (Cardiff), I Harris (Cardiff), G Thomas (Celtic Warriors, capt); C Sweeney (Celtic Warriors), D Peel (Llanelli); D Jones (Neath-Swansea), M Davies (Celtic Warriors), B Evans (Cardiff), M Owen (Gwent Dragons), G Llewellyn (Neath-Swansea), R Oakley (Gwent Dragons), R Parks (Celtic Warriors), A Popham (Leeds). Replacements: G Jenkins (Celtic Warriors) for B Evans, 52; V Cooper (Llanelli) for Owen, 66; H Bennett (Neath-Swansea) for Davies, 67.

Referee: J Dumé (France).