Niall Kevin Patrick Woods
DOB: 21/06/1971 Dublin
Niall Woods rugby career saw him saw him play for Blackrock College, Trinity College Dublin, Northern Suburbs, Australian Barbarians, Leinster, Barbarians, London Irish, Harlequins and various Ireland National squads. The goal kicking wing suffered serious knee ligament damage playing for a Premiership All Stars XV against England at Twickenham in September 1999. He played around a dozen games for Quin’s after leaving Irish, but was forced to retired in August 2001 after another operation on his knee.
Niall is now the Chief Executive Officer of IRUPA (Irish Rugby Union Players Association) www.irupa.ie
and took time out from his busy schedule (he is currently in talks with the IRFU over players contracts) to answer some questions:
When/where did you start to play rugby? Willow Park School (Blackrock College junior school) aged 7
Have you always played on the wing? No I played scrum half until my last year in school. I also played full back regularly for various clubs.
When did you join London Irish and how many games did you play? I joined in July 1996, I played about 75 games I think, I’m sure someone must have the stats. 72 (according to last programme of the 1999-2000 season )
How many points did you score in your London Irish days? No idea 633 including 37 tries
What brought you to London Irish? Clive Woodward
What was the training like? Different initially as the game had just gone pro.
Who was your most difficult opponent? Ieuan Evans was always a handful.
What was Sunbury like in your time playing there? The best atmosphere post game but on field when there was a big game and a big crowd it was electric. I really enjoyed it.
Where was your favourite away ground? Kingsholm purely for the atmosphere.
Who do you consider was the best player you played with at London Irish? Probably Steven Bachop
Who where the characters at Sunbury in your time playing? Justin Bishop, Kevin Putt, Gary Halpin, Sean Burns, Kieran McCarthy
Do you still keep in contact with any of your old team mates? Yes Conor O’Shea, Justin Bishop, Nick Burrows and Sean Burns.
The professional London Irish team is no longer a team for Irish/ Irish descent players, what are your feelings about this? Unfortunately it’s the way of the professional game and as such one has to move with the times. I’ve said it before the players don’t make a club the supporters do and the support for the club will always be predominantly Irish
You were playing for London Irish during the Club/Province/Country problems, where the club fell out with the IRFU. How did this affect you as a player? I lost my place on the Irish team. I felt it was more a disagreement between Clive and Pat Whelan the Irish Manager. It was completely childish in my opinion but the players were the ones to suffer.
Where you tempted to return to Ireland to play at this time? No.
Practically overnight London Irish went from a side full of Irish Internationals, to the league of nations. How did this change the balance of the club? As a player it didn’t really affect us as it was our job to be a pro rugby player and to win games. They arrived we trained very hard, we jelled well and the camaraderie that was there continued on if not stronger as for a lot of those players the club became their home away from home.
You played under a number of coaches at Irish, who was the hardest task master? Dick Best.
Do you miss playing for London Irish? Yes I miss playing rugby fullstop. If I had not got a career ending injury and retired at 29 five years ago I’d still be playing but more than likely down the south of France kicking goals enjoying the lifestyle. That was my goal to finish my career down there.
Do you have any stories from your LI days? Naturally but too many to recount.
You joined Harlequins after being released by Irish, how different was Quin’s to Irish? To clarify I wasn’t released by Irish. I left Irish because they refused to re negotiate with my agent as I had been injured for the whole season. I was shown no loyalty by the club who I had served very well in my 4 years. It was only when I told them that Quins were looking to sign me did they do anything about it.
Quins was a totally different club to Irish. There was no team camaraderie which I was used to at Irish and with Leinster and Blackrock back in Ireland. Also I was injured when I joined for the first 3 months and only played 11 or 12 games before having more surgery so it wasn’t a happy time for me. Training facilites were far superior to those at Irish as was the medical team which meant when I was forced to retire my knee was in as best a condition as it could be and I was very grateful to them for that. They also made an ex gratia payment to me to help me adjust to being forced to retire which they were not required to do.
You played a number of games for Ireland, how did it feel to pull on the shirt for the first time? Unbelievable really as I was 22 and in a room with Simon Geoghegan who was playing on the other wing. I’m quite laid back so I wasn’t that nervous and the fact that it was on a tour in Australia meant I was very far from home and it didn’t really hit home until after the tour.
What are your memories of playing for Ireland? Limited really as at that stage the wingers saw very little ball so it was difficult to get involved and dictate the game. My last cap in Wembley in 1999 was very special in that I hadn’t played for 3 years for Ireland, it was at Wembley, we won and I was really happy with my performance.
How different was the training with Ireland compared to London Irish? Not much difference really. It is hard to compare as coaching a national team is so different to coaching a club team as the coach does not get as much time with the national team as the club coach.
Did playing for London Irish affect your International career? Initially yes.
Who do consider was the best player you played with for Ireland? David Humphreys who was by a long way the most talented footballer I played with for Ireland.
Who was your hardest International opponent? David Campese. Even though I knew what he was going to do I still couldn’t do anything about it.
How many tours did you go on with Ireland and to where? 1994 Australia
What was your favourite away ground? Parc des Princes, Paris.
Do you wish that you had the opportunity to play in Croke Park? Yes especially after playing at Wembley.
Will you miss the current Lansdowne Road when it’s demolished? Yes the atmosphere as a player was unreal and was never beaten even at stadiums which held substantially more people.
And do you think the new ground should be bigger than the planned 40,000 all-seater? Its actually planned for a 50,000 seater but yes it would be great if it could be bigger but hopefully Croke Park will be available to hold the bigger games even after the redevelopment is completed.
Did you play for any other clubs? Trinity College Dublin whilst I was studying there and then Blackrock College before I came to London. Obviously I played for Leinster whilst I was at Blackrock.. I played for Northern Suburbs in Sydney for 4 months in 1995 and the Australian Barbarians during my time there.
Did you win any other honours (inter-provincial/county/blues/Barbarians etc.)? I also played for the Irish Wolfhounds and the Barbarians. I played for Ireland A, 7’s, Students and U’21. I played in the 1997 7’s RWC in Hong Kong
When did you stop playing rugby? August 2001 due to my knee injury.
Do you still watch rugby?(I know silly question) yes and obviously quite a lot due to my commentating commitments.
When was the last time you attended a London Irish match? 25th March 2006 v Sale as I was commentating for BBC 5 Live.
Which modern day player would you most liked to play with? Brian O’Driscoll
Has rugby changed much in the 5 years since you retired? Hugely
Do you feel that today’s rugby players play too much rugby? In some countries yes.
Are there any rules that you would like to see changed? Yes the breakdown as its so inconsistent.
Do you think that the English Premiership should ring-fenced? Possibly as Harlequins have showed by winning 23 out of 24 this season so why should they be punished for a year and then return straight away.
Will Munster/Leinster ever win the European Cup? Yes one of them will win it this year in Cardiff.
Do you think that the Celtic League has been good for Irish rugby? Yes it is improving the standards of the majority of players below the international level. It will take another few years to settle down and get the right format but once it does it will be very entertaining.
what was your occupation before turning professional? Trainee Chartered Accountant
You are currently the Chief Executive Officer of the IRUPA. How important to you was it that Ireland’s players had a Professional Rugby Players Association? Having worked in the PRA in London and also after suffering a career ending injury I believed and still do that it was vital that the players here had a collective voice to protect their welfare both on and off the pitch.
How exceptive to your ideas where the IRFU? They agreed to part fund the association for the first 3 years so I would have to say they were very helpful. Like anything a players association is a new thing and people don’t like change and pro rugby has had a huge number of changes for the establishments all over the world and I fully understand that but the longer pro rugby goes on the more players will want to have their views heard and that is my primary purpose and will continue to do so.
In a recent copy of Rugby World magazine there was an article on playing careers being cut short due to injuries, and what can be done to stop the rot. What would you like to see done? More research into the causes of these injuries and then more preventative methods installed to avoid the increasing numbers of players been forced out of the game.
What is your opinion on the muscling up of modern rugby players? My opinion would be that it’s a natural progression as if the best team in the world is bigger, stronger and more powerful than you it is natural to try to do the same to be able to compete and ultimately beat them. It is also vital that players bodies are strong enough to withstand the rigours of the game and prevent injuries.
It mentions on the IRUPA website that you do a lot of media work. How enjoyable do you find it? Its great to keep involved in the game and I started after I stopped playing for 5 Live who I still do the odd game for which gets me back over to London. Radio is a great medium and I get to work with greats such as Ian Robertson, Nigel Starmer Smith and new guys like Martin Bayfield and Andrew Cotter. I also do TV for Sky Sports which is great as the Heineken Cup is such a strong competition and the standard of rugby just keeps improving.
When are you going to inducted into the IRUPA Hall Of Fame? I presume not in the distant future and think it would be very doubtful but if I achieve what I want to achieve for the players over the next few years maybe they will reward me when I have left the job.
How is your knee now? Most of the time it is ok but I am not allowed to do any running as this just causes me pain and I end up limping for a few days so I don’t run anymore. The only exercise I do is “spinning” in my gym which is done on a bike so there is no pressure on the joints. Thankfully I can play golf but after playing a hilly course I will be very stiff, sore and limping.
He played 4 times for the Barbarians scoring a try in each match. http://www.barbarianfc.co.uk/new_search ... =2634#trie
His Ireland record can be found at: http://statistics.scrum.com/rugby_stats_05.asp?ID=IWO5