Keith Wood was the heartbeat of the Irish pack during his nine-year international career, putting in performances which led to recognition as one of the best hookers in world rugby.
His time in an Ireland jersey took in the end of the Five Nations era and the beginning of the Guinness Six Nations, while Wood also featured in three Rugby World Cups and two British & Irish Lions tours over the course of a superb career at the top level.
An all-action competitor and inspirational leader, Wood’s pace and power set him apart from the other hookers of his generation – as did his ability with the boot, which he deployed on numerous occasions to clear danger.
The Ireland stalwart made countless tackles and was a warrior at the breakdown, while the sight of Wood setting off on one of his trademark powerful runs provided joy for Ireland supporters in an era when results did not always go their way.
Wood became an Ireland legend and, through his media work, remains an influential voice with regard to both the Guinness Six Nations and the wider rugby world.
To celebrate the Six Nations’ 20th anniversary, you can create your Greatest XV on the Guinness Six Nations app and choose from more than 150 players, including Keith Wood.
PATH TO THE TOP
Wood was born in Limerick in 1972 and comes from a rugby family. His father, Gordon Wood, earned 29 caps in Ireland’s front row as a prop and played twice for the British & Irish Lions on the 1959 tour of Australia.
A multi-talented sportsman, Wood followed in his father’s footsteps on the rugby field but not before impressing in the hurling world – as a teenager, Wood represented Clare GAA in the Nenagh Co-op hurling tournament in 1988.
Rugby ultimately won the battle for Wood’s affections and his senior career started at Limerick-based Garryowen, with whom he won two All Ireland Championships in 1992 and 1994.
International recognition followed, with Wood making his Ireland debut against Australia in 1994, and he moved to Harlequins the following year – the forward would enjoy two spells at Twickenham Stoop either side of a season at Munster in 1999/2000.
Wood’s Five Nations bow came in the fixture all Irish players look out for ahead of any other – the visit of England to Dublin.
Ireland were beaten on Wood’s Championship bow in 1995 – as they were on his next appearance at Murrayfield a fortnight later – and a shoulder injury he picked up against Japan ruled him out of the 1996 tournament.
Wood returned to feature once in 1997 before becoming an ever-present in the final two years of the Five Nations.
They were tricky campaigns for Ireland, who won just one game across the two Championships which ended the 20th century – a 29-23 success over Wales at Wembley in 1999, in which Wood scored his first Five Nations try.
Wood always had a taste for the try line and proved it once more in the 1999 World Cup, going over four times in a 53-8 win over USA to equal the record for most tries scored by a forward in a single Rugby World Cup match.
ON TOP OF THE WORLD
Wood played all five matches in the inaugural Guinness Six Nations in 2000, which saw Ireland climb to third after an improved campaign.
The following year, 2001, was a particularly special one even by the standards of Wood’s fantastic career.
His Ireland performances earned him a spot in the British & Irish Lions squad for the tour of Australia and Wood was named man of the match after a superb display in a victorious first Test.
Though Australia came back to take the series, Wood’s impressive displays on the tour set him up perfectly for a starring role in what remained of the Guinness Six Nations campaign, which had been pushed back due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the spring.
Ireland won two of their remaining three matches, beating Wales 36-6 in Cardiff before ruining England’s Grand Slam hopes at Lansdowne Road in the final round of the Championship.
Typically, Wood was influential and set Ireland on their way to their 20-14 victory with the opening try, starting and finishing a slick lineout move.
The following week, Wood’s dominant displays across 2001 were recognised when he was named as the inaugural World Rugby Player of the Year.
Wood took the honour ahead of fellow nominees George Gregan, George Smith, Brian O’Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson and remained the only Irishman to claim the prize until Johnny Sexton won it in 2018.
Injury unfortunately limited Wood to only one more Guinness Six Nations appearance following his World Rugby Player of the Year prize, with his Championship farewell coming in a 44-5 defeat against France in Paris in April 2002.
Wood earmarked the 2003 World Cup as his farewell and he began the tournament well, scoring in Ireland’s 45-17 win over Romania in their opening match.
There was to be no fairytale ending for Wood, however, as Ireland were beaten 43-21 by France at the quarter-final stage in the hooker’s 58th appearance for his country.
Wood confirmed his retirement after the game, saying: “It’s time to hang up the boots. My desire is still there – I would play for another 10 years if I had the chance.
“The head is willing and the heart is willing but the body has had enough.
“The injury to the shoulder is an injury that is waiting to happen and I’m lucky to get out before I make an absolute mess out of it. I knew I was going to retire whenever the end of Ireland’s involvement was.
“It’s been a privilege to play for so long.”
Since retiring, Wood has been inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2005 and the IRB Hall of Fame in 2014.
He contributes to the BBC’s coverage of the Guinness Six Nations as part of his numerous media commitments, while he also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Limerick for services to Sport.
Fans will be treated to Wood’s thoughts on Guinness Six Nations matches for years to come – and his performances as a player in the competition mean his place in Irish rugby folklore is secure.