Travel Tales – Keith Wood

This week’s Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast features the Munster, Ireland and Lions rugby legend Keith Wood. We talk about Keith’s travels throughout his rugby career with Ireland and the Lions but what really shines through is his love of Co.Clare, and particularly his hometown of Killaloe. He talks eloquently about his love of west Clare and particularly around Quilty, where his family are originally from.

Ireland play Italy in the Six Nations at the Aviva in Dublin this weekend. When I had the Irish rugby legend Keith Wood on my Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast I took the opportunity to ask him which Six Nations cities were his favourite. Fittingly he said the Aviva was his favourite stadium as a player for atmosphere, but it had to be Rome as a fan.


“For me Lansdowne Road was the best place of all time. During my time the noise at the Berkeley Court Hotel was unbelievable. Before you’d go to the match you would have to go down the lift then through the crowded foyer before you got on the bus to go to the stadium. Even though it was only a couple of 100 yards it was an amazing atmosphere. But I love Rome. Paris can be too busy and too big when you’re having to travel across different areas of the city. London is also too big for an international match and Cardiff and Edinburgh are too small”.

Keith told me on the podcast “I love Rome so much. I studied Latin in St Munchins (in Limerick) and part of that study was learning Roman history. The city is living and breathing history. I loved going for a run early in the morning through the city when I was working for the BBC. You can turn a corner and suddenly there is a pillar that is half underground and surrounded by glass to show it was part of some ancient Roman building and that was fantastic. It is such a great city”.
It is often said that a city reflects the personality of its inhabitants. When writing about travel I am a firm believer in the innate truth in many a cliche. This is borne out when visiting the Six Nations capitals. You would be hard pressed to find a bar open within a mile of Murrayfield on match day in an often cold and austere Edinburgh. But in Cardiff you’d struggle to find anything other than bars open around the stadium in this party city on match days.
Paris can be all cool and aloof but still chic in springtime where you’d hardly know there was a match within a mile of the Stade de France. Whilst in Twickenham in London a man in tweeds quaffing champagne from the back of a Land Rover isn’t out of place inside that impressive stadium. The crowd has the feel of refined west country people visiting London to catch up with old school chums. It feels a little like going to a posh private house party where you don’t know anyone.
Rome is a different kettle of fish. You go to Rome for everything but the match. You go for the ancient Roman ruins to be seen poking out of the ground in parks in most squares. many streets and the majestic ecclesiastic architecture exuding confidence and power.
This is a city unselfconsciously aware of its place in the world as the birthplace of the Roman Empire and the cradle of ancient civilisation. This crumbling city is full of faded grandeur amid the constant noise of beeping Vespa horns and the exaggerated voices and hand gestures of romans as they try to navigate their way around this most charming, fun and alive city in Europe.
Even the Roman taxi drivers are different. I remember one time hailing a taxi and the driver was head to toe in Versace including shades. He drove me through the city like he was being chased by the police. He was obviously taking the long route, but I didn’t mind as we whizzed past the most beautiful medieval churches, ancient ruins and renaissance mansions.
I haven’t even mentioned Italian food. I already wrote that I’m a believer in travel cliches. I try to seek out the small, often a little shabby, restaurants that are full of locals not tourists. I try to be the only tourist in the restaurant. I know. Recommendations for food are always welcome and I noticed that the other great rugby player Brian O’Driscoll’s wife Amy Huberman was posting on Instagram from Rome last weekend. She said the pizza from Piccolo Buso is the best she ever tasted and Riscioli’s and Amando’s great for pasta.
Keith told me on the podcast that he felt Brian O’Driscoll should have won Man of the Match instead of him for that famous Brisbane game in 2001 on the Lions Tour to Australia.

He said whoever made the decision got it wrong. Keith added ‘I played very well but Brian scored the famous try. I don’t know who picked Man of the Match but he was easily the Man of the Match that day’.

When talking about the Lions tour to Australia in 2001 he felt they over trained after a long season and he still has regrets. “We were wrecked going into that tour. We over-trained and if we had rested for three weeks, we would have had a better chance”.

“We were trying to get to a high level of technical proficiency in a very short period of time and we got that wrong. We fell apart and even with all that, I am still unbelievably annoyed we left that behind us”.

Keith talks on the podcast about his time in London with Harlequins and his love of that city. Keith tells us where his favourite cities and stadium is to play in and his favourite countries to tour to.

You can listen to the Keith Wood episode and all the episodes from 3 Seasons on