- Wood says England's defensive intensity is becoming a real weapon
- No. 8 praises Farrell's kicking so far in the RBS Six Nations
Ask Tom Wood about the abrasive edge that permeated England's first win over Ireland in a decade and you are greeted with a rare smile.
The 26-year-old is a considered thinker and eloquent speaker about the game, but that is allied to a furious desire for the physical and emotional challenges of rugby, which are omnipresent in all clashes with England’s Celtic neighbours.
Suggesting he was happier than most when he woke to grey, drizzling skies above Dublin on Sunday morning, the rugby purist said: “They’re the kind of games I love, wet conditions, limited with what you can do with ball in hand but real physical challenges.
“They’ve got guys that are renowned for powerful ball carrying and it was a big challenge for us to step up and I thought we did that well. It’s always going to be a bit edgy: the rivalry, a big six nations game, the only two unbeaten teams, away in Dublin. We thrive on that and enjoyed it.”
Owen Farrell booted England to a 12-6 victory which was founded on defensive intensity. Line speed and organisation were key when repelling wave after wave of Irish runners, especially in the crucial opening quarter which was the visitors’ undoing on their last visit in 2011.
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Wood topped the tackle stats with 14 alongside Farrell and captain Chris Robshaw, and rates the performance as “right up there” from a defensive perspective. He believes England are acquiring a vitally important quality in Test rugby – they’re becoming hard to beat.
England are a team who derive energy and confidence from their defence, a feature which only assumed greater significance against a team which prides itself on attack, such as Ireland.
“We pride ourselves on defensive intensity, we work hard on it and have a strong philosophy,” said Wood, who made his first international start with No.8 on his back against Ireland.
“Andy Farrell has instilled that in us from day one, we’ve never claimed to be a tidy defence or pristine, we get set, we get off the line and try to give the opposition as much pressure as possible. And in those conditions it was hard to handle.
“They talk a lot about how a lot of energy comes from Ireland’s attack, they’re a fluid team but on the flipside a lot of our energy comes from our defence. Getting up and in the line, getting turnovers, making big hits fills you with energy and confidence and as long as you have those foundations is place you can build on it and it makes you a difficult team to beat.”
Photo: Getty Images
Like all professional teams, England do not like to look too far ahead, but as they approach the challenges that lie in wait, Wood feels they are showing signs of another critical feature in winning Test matches; the accumulation of points from visits to the opposition “Red Zone.”
Farrell, still only 21, has kicked 30 points in the opening two RBS 6 Nations victories with a metronomic accuracy belying his young age. His 12 points against Ireland were all the more important given the paucity of England territory and possession.
Wood crashed into 32 rucks – topping the team stats for the third game in succession – and said knowing his efforts will be rewarded with points drives him on.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than doing some really good things – getting a positive scrum, chasing hard, using all your energy to make a turnover or to win a penalty – and then the kick go wide.
“That’s frustrating as a forward, it happens and it’s part of the game, we’re all human, but to have someone on the form Owen is at the moment, you’re confident they’re going to go over more often than not.”
England now assemble at St George’s Park in Burton today for three days together before a weekend without an international, safe in the knowledge they are the only unbeaten team left in the tournament.