“I want to be Serge Blanco”: Keith Wood, former hooker of Clover’s XV, tells himself in front of France

"I want to be Serge Blanco": Keith Wood, former hooker of Clover's XV, tells himself in front of France

It’s too early to tell. Usually, people say it’s French or English, but it’s disrespectful to other countries. This does not take into account the specific nature of this match, which is a bit unfair, as it requires two or three moves. I know, it’s been ten years since I started getting excited before a match. If I’m excited, I’m not saying that because I ‘ve lost France for the last few years, because …

It’s too early to tell. Usually, people say it’s French or English, but it’s disrespectful to other countries. This does not take into account the specific nature of this match, which is a bit unfair, as it requires two or three moves. As far as I know, it’s been ten years since I started getting excited before a game. If I’m excited, it’s because I’ve missed France for the last few years, and I’m not saying that because you’re French. What I lost was the original French team, the old one, and there we started to find it. I like that Fabian and Raphael (Editor’s note: Galti and Ibanes) had the courage to pick young actors and admit that they make mistakes and bring them down to a higher level. Within two years, they were back to the old days and taking France back to exciting times.

But do you have a special liking for French rugby?

Yes. You know, my favorite rugby player was Serge Blanco. I wanted to be Sergia. Unfortunately, I had the body of a front row player. But it was the player who turned on the light in my house. I found him amazing, and then I had the opportunity to face some of the best French players, and I even played at Harlequins with my favorite French player, Laurent Cabanes. I adored him. What a great player. It was a pleasure to be able to play with him. Sometimes I saw him doing things in competitions and training. I was like, “Pff … I’m a good player, but I can not do this. I think there have always been such players in France, but over the years, I think clubs have once again given young people the opportunity to show what they can do.

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How do you see the development of the Irish team?

Three or four years ago we were very smart, but everything had to be accurate and perfect. Andy Farrell uses this foundation to move us forward. We have a lot of options, and Farrell wants players to choose and make decisions. To me this seems like a more natural process.

“I have never been so excited before a match for ten years. ⁇

Did it take Andy Farrell a while to get his hands dirty after taking over from Joe Schmidt?

Yes. This is funny, because people criticize Joe Schmidt for what he did for Ireland. But I think our rugby has been understood over the past seasons. It had to be changed, we did not. Our game was very structured … It took Andy Farrell a year to break that addiction to the system and come to a more natural game. Like Fabian Galti, his staff includes someone very stylish, like Paul O’Connell, who can rely on Sean Edward for defense. But in a game there are times when you have to get out of the structure and play with your head held high, taking risks.

How did you find Ireland against Wales?

Very remarkable, but at the same time the Welsh were very poor. But bad weather like in Paris affected the quality of the game. Ireland should have been faster in the first half. She was very rude at times. But at the same time she gave a relief. She’s never been in trouble.

In November the Irish put their stamp on the All Blacks. Is this one of the best performances in your history?

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I do not know. I came out of this match, I was in heaven. But objectively, it was not a great All Black team. On the other hand, this match was the downfall of New Zealand and we were never under pressure. We were in control. This is an unusual feeling when you play against All Black House. I also think this competition marks a breakthrough. We started to play a little harder, but looked ahead of us.

Is your front five the best in the world today?

I am not sure. Our first line is likely but it is still being studied internationally. But Tagd Farlong is the best right prop. He’s very strong in the game, but he’s also an important link in the game. He causes shaking moments in a match.

How bad is Johnny Sexton’s package?

This would have been a problem in previous seasons because our whole game revolved around Johnny. Not in it anymore. There are many other players who offer themselves as the first receiver. It will be easy for Joey Carberry. He does not have to force his game. The system will allow him to feel more comfortable. He is a young man but has a successful experience. He came in on all three of our victories against the All Blacks.

What is your best memory against France?

I have a lot. I was even a replacement at Park des Princess, but luckily I never came back. I filled myself with candy given by Mainstay Gary Halpin, and I almost got sick. Since 1998 our competition has been very tight. But I remember our win over France in Paris in 2000 (27-25), and when I put my head under a rack at that moment, I was exhausted and I saw Brian Odriscoll take to score this weird running angle. His hat trick. No one could touch it. Memories of these matches fill me with joy. It was always very difficult on the fronts. But I loved playing in Paris with the bikers in front of our bus, the drama in the stadium, this slightly crazy atmosphere. The last game I played was against France as Fabian captain. I kept the ball too.

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