Irish cannot afford to rest on laurels, says Wood
Keith Wood doesn’t subscribe to the theory that Irish sides fare best when cast in the role of underdogs.
That, he believes, is old hat. Time to move on and have faith in their own ability. That, he believes, is happening.
“Irish rugby is in good shape, though we need to get a chunk of guys coming through, certainly forwards and front rows in particular,” he says.
“But we have something that we’ve never had in the past and that’s a history of winning. We have it in the national side and we have it in the provincial sides where guys are getting used to the idea of winning games.
“Professionalism suits us a lot,” he reckons. “Our provinces are based on 1,500 years or more of history; if you’re born in a province you play for your province and that gives an invaluable level of identity.
“Also the Irish guys who were involved in the set-up of the European Cup did a fantastic job for Ireland in making sure that the three teams were going to be there. They looked after us very well and we’re still reaping the benefits.”
He acknowledges that the timing of Irish rugby’s emergence in tandem with the feelgood factor attached to the so-called Celtic Tiger was helpful. Things were vibrant, so it was a marriage waiting to happen. I think Irish people wanted something to hang their hat on and rugby was the one,” he says.
Reflecting on the so-called Croke Park experience he continues: “That was very good for us, though I don’t regret our move back to Lansdowne Road and the new Aviva Stadium. That’s the home of Irish rugby.
“That said, Croke Park has been a huge benefit for rugby as well as socially for the whole country by virtue of what it has done for inclusion and in breaking down a few of the remaining barriers.
“While we paid plenty for the pleasure of playing at Croke Park, the IRFU owe the GAA a huge debt of gratitude.”
Asked about having to adapt to the reality of a stadium with over 30,000 fewer seats, he replies: “Yes, I wish the new Lansdowne Road was a bit bigger, but not 83,000. I think we’re 10,000 seats shy.
“But it is stunning and already it’s iconic. I flew over it last week and it was just unbelievable. I think that’s something we can be very proud of. Now they just have to make certain that it’s the best rugby stadium in the world.”