Keith Wood never took a backward step, on or off the rugby field. The combative Irish hooker had an intensity that bordered on lunacy, and he encapsulated the clichéd phrase ‘force of nature’, to mark himself as one of the greatest hookers of all time
Major teams: Harlequins, Munster
Test span: 1994-2003
Ireland caps: 58 (55 starts)
Lions caps: 5 (5 starts)
Test points: 75 (15T)
Brought up in Killaloe, County Clare, where he spent his youth hurling, his rugby pedigree was never in question after his father Gordon packed down for Ireland on 29 occasions. He made his debut at 21 against the Wallabies in 1994 and, as a natural leader, went on to captain Ireland in 38 Tests.
Wood excelled at the set-piece, finding his jumper routinely, yet what set him apart from his peers was his attacking ability. Wood, who was nicknamed Uncle Fester for his distinctive bald head, crossed the try-line on 15 occasions in his 58 Tests – still a world record for a hooker. The memory of the 17st Wood throwing in, and then tearing around the corner to take the ball off the jumper to drive into the opposition defence, is a sight few opponents will miss.
Wood led Ireland into two of his three World Cups. His 1999 campaign included a four-try haul against the USA, while he played his final game in the green shirt in a losing quarter-final against France in 2003. “The heart is willing, the head is willing but the body has had enough,” he said.
Wood was also to make a name for himself as a Lion, playing in five Tests. He was one of the tour’s standout players in both 1997 and 2001, winning the inaugural IRB Player of the Year award in the latter year.
Domestically Wood spent his early years at Garryowen before spending the majority of his career with Harlequins, save for a year with Munster when he led them to the Heineken Cup final, giving them a belief they could conquer Europe.
In his career after rugby, Wood isn’t lacking work. He’s a sought after public speaker, runs a PR company and is a TV pundit for the BBC.