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Last Updated: Monday, 10 November, 2003, 14:06 GMT
Wood says goodbye in style

By Nick Mullins
BBC Sport rugby commentator

I guess they might have played one of his personal favourites - maybe the old Leonard Cohen song "That's No Way To Say Goodbye" - but in the end the choice of music was just about perfect.

As Keith Wood made his way off the pitch in Melbourne to close the book on one of modern day rugby's more compelling personal stories, the tune reverberating around the cavernous Telstra Dome was Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien".

Keith Wood in action for Ireland
Wood was at his best even in his final game

It seemed wholly appropriate. After all, the French had just sent Wood into retirement. French skipper Fabien Galthie was the first to embrace him after the final whistle. And over the tannoy, a French serenade to help him along.

Both Wood and Galthie - fierce rivals on the pitch, great friends off it - knew beforehand that one of them was about to play their last match.

Ultimately, the Gallic circus master was the one who could anticipate the thrill of a World Cup semi-final, while rugby's most recognisable bald head was left to contemplate life in a round world rather than an oval one.

It was a privilege to be able to watch the last five minutes of Wood's life before he became an ex-player.

He spent it charging around the pitch like a seven-year-old who'd just been told it was nearly time to stop kicking the ball around outside and come in for tea.

Not a moment was to be wasted. Not a tackle was to be missed. Wearing green was one of the thrills of his life. He wanted to go out on his terms. He wanted - if at all possible - to go out with his 16th international try.

The man heading for the Sunshine Retirement Home for ex-hookers will be resting his weary bones

He didn't manage that. But it was his hack (sorry Keith, scientifically formulated attacking kick) up the field from his own 22 that eventually led to Brian O'Driscoll's last, defiant score.

For Ireland and Wood, the cold-hearted reality of the World Cup hit home hard on Monday. In the blink of an eye their tournament was over. As Alan Jones, the former Australian coach, once remarked, today's rooster is tomorrow's feather duster.

The man heading for the Sunshine Retirement Home for ex-hookers will spend the next couple of weeks resting his weary bones on some beach in Sydney with his family.

Very few have drained their bodies so much and so often for their country's sporting cause quite as much as Keith Wood.

The aches and the pains of battle from rugby's front line will be with him for a while yet. But the warm memories and the friendships will last much, much longer.

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