Lions coaching contender Warren Gatland is impressing one of the star performers from the last tour to Australia.
Keith Wood was simply outstanding for a second successive tour back in 2001 as he started all three Tests against the Wallabies having done the same against the Springboks four years earlier.
Wood won plenty of praise for his full-blooded, totally committed and cosmopolitan approach to the hooking berth as the Lions thrashed the 1999 World Champions in Brisbane before narrowly missing out on series success with heart-breaking defeats in Melbourne and Sydney.
Current Wales coach Gatland is many people’s favourite to be handed the reigns when the Lions go looking for revenge over the Aussies next year and Wood is convinced the New Zealander has all the right attributes to lead Britain and Ireland’s elite to victory.
Gatland guided Wales to the World Cup semi-finals late last year and masterminded an impressive opening 6 Nations win over Wood’s native Ireland earlier this month.
And with the Lions committee set to make an announcement on their preferred head coach later this spring, Wood believes Gatland is on track to earn the ultimate coaching honour.
“I was coached by Warren myself. I think he has matured and is making the right noises today,” Wood, who experienced Gatland’s coaching during his time as Ireland boss between 1998 and 2001, told the Western Mail.
“Warren has put a level of energy into a very young Welsh team and given them the chance to go out and play.
“He is backing his players. He has got some youngsters there and I think he is doing a very good job.”
And it’s not just on the pitch that Wood has been impressed with Gatland’s attitude and achievements.
The way in which the 48-year-old assessed Bradley Davies’ controversial tip tackle in the win over the Irish and the down-to-earth and modest manner of his players when dealing with the press hasn’t gone unnoticed either.
“When Warren saw the footage which showed that Bradley had picked up Donnacha Ryan and plonked him on his head, he said, ‘That’s a straight red card, absolutely.’ There was no futile or silly defence of it,” added Wood.
“The players have played very well and spoken very well. A lot of these guys are young but have been around for a while and they seem to be speaking with a fair level of maturity.
“There was an interview with George North on the television the other day and he just came across so well. He’s just 19 years of age. How dare he be so calm and assured and mature?
“It’s great to see. It’s likewise with someone like Leigh Halfpenny, who has spoken so well, and with Sam Warburton.
“There was a comment from Warburton a couple of weeks ago where he was saying he took full responsibility for his tackle in the World Cup semi-final. He said we don’t want youngsters looking at that and thinking that’s acceptable.
“There have been really good noises coming out of the camp. They just seem to be mature and enjoying themselves.”