Keith Wood is a man who is part of a very elite group of players. He is one of the privileged few to have pulled on the famous Lions jersey and come back to the Northern Hemisphere as part of a winning Lions team.
Last week, Canterbury announced that they would be manufacturing the 2017 tour jerseys and that really adds to the unique challenge which awaits everyone who will be involved in two years’ time.
Canterbury’s announcement also saw the unveiling of a commemorative British & Irish Lions shirt which was inspired by the 1959 tour. This tour and that jersey has a very special connection to Keith.
His father, Gordon Wood, played in that tour and for Keith to have followed in his footsteps is a proud moment for himself and the Wood family as a whole.
“I love the fact Canterbury are back involved, said Keith. “It sits quite comfortably with me and my family history. My old man toured with the Lions in 1959 so he would’ve won the original jersey. They have gone for a retro style one and the ’59 jersey his here too so I really like it as it brings out the nostalgia in me!
“It’s part and parcel of our own history. It is something that is special to me to have followed my Dad in representing the Lions. I was involved with Ireland in the mid-90s and to then go onto play for the Lions and beat South Africa in their own back yard– the then current World Champions – was very special.”
As Keith mentions, his most successful tour was in 1997 and just watching the footage back emphasises just how special the experience was. It was a series where the Lions were written off before a ball was even kicked, but they relished the chance and shone in South Africa.
20 years on from that historic tour, the Lions are now preparing to travel to the home of the world champions once again – this time New Zealand.
There has been so much talk since they lifted the World Cup nearly two weeks ago whether this current All Blacks side is the greatest side in the history of the game.
The fact Steve Hansen’s men have lost just three times in four years suggests so, but Keith thinks that the Lions can certainly inflict two more defeats on this special New Zealand team.
He added: “Clearly they are the best and a lot have has been said about New Zealand, but as I told someone earlier on, they were beaten three times in the last four year.
All the Lions need to do is beat them twice in two years’ time! They can be beaten, but the challenge for the Lions is to be consistent.”
Just speaking to Keith, you really get more of an understanding about how important and special it is for a player to represent the British and Irish Lions. To put on the famous red jersey and join forces with three other nations seems to be the peak of a player’s career.
Keith explained how great it was to one week be tackling a man in a white jersey, to then being his close team-mate the next. He now feels that no matter who will be picked for the 2017 tour, they will do the Lions justice and they will learn to adapt their game in the coming years and months before that first test.
He said: “It’s all about the whole squad and I think we will end up with a strong team going over to New Zealand and they will do us proud.
“If you look at the World Cup just gone, there has been a more adventurous style of rugby being played by the Southern Hemisphere teams so we’re going to have to follow suit in some degree. We need to play that way and the other ways and need something else in our armoury I feel.”
From now until the first test on June 24th 2017, there will be a lot of speculation about a starting XV and the squad in general, but there is a lot of rugby to be played between now and then. But what is clear, is that whoever is given the honour of wearing that Canterbury jersey, will give it their all for the cause.