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Irish legend Keith Wood offers interesting thought on proposed Rugby Laws

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Wednesday Mar 27, 2024

Former Ireland captain Keith Wood is one of the most respected voices in international rugby.

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An ultra skilful hooker in his day, the former Harlequins and Munster star was ahead of his time in terms of where Irish Rugby was during his playing days.

Retiring from international rugby in 2003, just two years after winning the inaugural World Player Of The Year award, Wood played a key role in the development of future Irish stars such as Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell.

Inducted into the International Rugby Hall Of Fame two years after his retirement, Wood remained heavily linked to the sport as a commentator for the BBC.

Still at the forefront of the rugby conversation, Wood, whose two sons, Gordon and Tom, are making their way through the Munster set-up as skilful ball-playing backline players, has offered several interesting thoughts on the future of the sport.

Speaking on the popular Irish sports radio show ‘Off The Ball’, Wood was asked by host Joe Molloy about his thoughts on World Rugby’s proposed law changes.

One law in particular that Wood felt strongly about was the number of substitutions available to teams.

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A hot topic over the past year, given the wide variety of bench make-ups being utilised by professional teams, Wood offered a really intriguing thought process on what he felt the lawmakers should incorporate.

Starting the conversation, Molloy asked Wood which of the law changes would get his thumbs up.

“There are a few elements of it, but capping the subs is a big thing for me,” Wood opened before saying, “I think we should really be down to four or five subs.”

This does not mean that coaches would be limited to picking only four or five players on the bench; rather, they would have the option to select which players to bring on from a panel on the bench.

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“You might have eight or nine on the bench, but you can only put on four or five, and it doesn’t matter if there’s another injury or anything else.

“Then it goes down to an element of luck, but this constant changing of players and actually Mathieu Raynal, who is retiring this year, came out and said that is something he would be very keen on, and I would agree with.

“I like the fact that the scrum is going to be brought down to less time; it’s funny because a lot of the people, and I know I now qualify as one of the older people in rose-tinted glasses back on times passed and say the scrums were better, they weren’t.

“The scrums were a shambles, and they were also very dangerous; they’re a different type of danger now, but the pressure is fairly extraordinary, and there is a huge difficulty with the pressure to strike at the moment.

Expanding on his point, Wood explained why it is more challenging to get the scrums right at the moment.

“Because the guys are a lot bigger and the guys are a lot further away from the ground so it is a little bit more difficult.

“But it needs to be much faster, and this scrum that lasts four or five minutes is a joke, so I would never have been in favour of saying you can’t take another scrum because if you’re better than that team and you’re able to push them back why shouldn’t you go for another one and get a penalty?

“But then it goes into the idea that the basis of a scrum shouldn’t be for a penalty; the basis of a penalty should be to win it, put the team under pressure, and move the ball away; that’s ultimately what it should be.

“So maybe it comes to the fact that if you’re beating the other guy and it goes down as a penalty, then it becomes a free kick, and off you go, but it’s not a penalty; it’s a free kick.

“I don’t like games where scrums are held for three minutes until somebody collapses under the pressure of 80 minutes of the game, and that’s the deciding nature of the game.

“That just seems to be a little bit wrong for whatever reason, so that kind of annoys me a little bit.”

Turning his attention to one other area of the game that has caused a lot of debate, the ‘caterpillar’ being employed at the ruck.

“The caterpillar at the back of the ruck is a joke, so every time I see a player coming in, he should be penalised when they’re coming in to extend it down.

“I’d love to see the ref penalise people and stop coaching them; he says, ‘You’re offside’ Well, if he is offside, then penalise him for being offside so that he is onside the next time. That is what I would like.

Finishing his point, Wood said, “A referee coaching, I find quite irritating.”

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