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Last Updated: Friday, 3 October, 2003, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Wood vital for Irish
Coach Eddie O'Sullivan has a new four-year contract with Ireland
Eddie O'Sullivan won't have Keith Wood in his team for much longer

Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan makes no bones about the importance of having talismanic hooker Keith Wood back in the emerald green jersey for the Rugby World Cup.

The 31-year-old bald-domed hooker has emerged from a nightmare of injuries and family tragedy to take over the leadership of Ireland and his presence has galvanised them for coming battles with Argentina and hosts Australia.

Wood, who has seen his mother and brother die in the last year, has undergone two shoulder operations and only rejoined the Ireland team in tournament warm-up games in August.

"He's a pretty special player, not just what he can do on the field, but off the field he's a very good leader and he has the respect of the squad," O'Sullivan said in Australia on Friday.

"It's his whole input around the squad, he's got a lot of gravitas, it's the best way to describe him".

Wood, who was a great success here with the touring British and Irish Lions in 2001, was a regular in the Irish team before the onset of shoulder injuries restricted him to just six of Ireland's last 24 internationals.

"It's great for us to have Keith back, we've soldiered on without him pretty much for the two years I've been coach... he's only played five or six Tests, he's missed about 20 Tests for us with injuries," O'Sullivan said.

"Most people had written him off for this World Cup, because he had suffered a series of injuries last year which were quite serious, but the testament to the guy is that he put his head down and never gave up hope.

Let there not be any doubt that there's an element of madness in the Irish team
Keith Wood

"He's retiring after the World Cup and I know he wants to give it his best shot and go out as high in the game as he can".

Wood, who led Ireland for the first time in 1996, plays down his role as captain, pointing to the merits of his predecessors.

"Captaincy is often over-rated. You'll have a guy as captain as if he's an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-doing mandarin, and that's not the case," he said.

"When I was captain the first time, that was one of the flaws - thinking that you had to do every aspect of the things that needed to be done, but the biggest key to being captain is delegation.

"When I started off (in 1994) there was an awful lot of shouting and madness in the changeroom.

"There's still a bit of it, let there not be any doubt that there's an element of madness in the Irish team, but it's a lot calmer than what it was".

When asked about his imminent retirement from the game, Wood replied: "More than likely".

"The buzz is still there. I really enjoyed the training session today. It was good craic. I do enjoy it. (But) it just comes down to injuries, simple as that."

Wood will lead the Irish in their opening Pool A match against Romania in Gosford on 11 October.



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