- England have more left in the tank, says Wood
- Adaptability as a back row key to his selection so far
Tackling practice against Tom Wood must be one of those sessions that England players dread.
In his last three RBS 6 Nations matches the 26-year-old back row has shown his worth in defence, topping the tackle stats against Scotland (16), Ireland (14, joint top) and France (23). His insatiable appetite for work has epitomised the attitude of the current England crop, who are yet to lose a game in this year’s tournament.
The team’s most recent win over France was one of their toughest challenges to date, having headed in at half-time 10-9 down – the first time this year they have gone into the break behind. A resurgence from England in the second half, helped by a try from Manu Tuilagi, led to an eventual 23-13 win but Wood knows the side have a lot more to show in the tournament.
“What left me most confident on the back of the French game was the fact that we won a really tough game against a quality opposition,” he said. “I think we had more in the tank. We can still perhaps play our best rugby and really get into our stride and that’s really encouraging going forward to know that if we do get it right we will be very difficult to beat.
“France really came to play some rugby and they put us under a lot of pressure. We are really pleased we came through it but by the same token there’s a lot to work on. We have got a few areas to work on, our indiscipline at the scrum cost us and put us on the back foot. We lost a couple of lineouts we really expected to win and our detail has got to improve there as we were not particularly good against Ireland either, so lots for us to work on. I don’t think our breakdown was at the same level as it was against Scotland and New Zealand so we are really just focusing on us and the areas we can improve.”
The Northampton Saints blindside flanker was a central figure in England’s win over the French, showing the direct impact a good performance from Wood has on the team. But outside of his physical presence in the tackle and the breakdown, it’s his adaptability as a back row that is making him a bona fide utility forward for Lancaster to pick.
In England’s historic win over New Zealand last November he played at 6, producing a typically ferocious performance against the likes of Richie McCaw and the All Blacks pack. He stayed at 6 for the Scotland clash, in which he not only topped the tackle stats but also hit the most amount of breakdowns – 45.
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However, in the past two matches against Ireland and France, Wood has switched to No.8, with James Haskell and Courtney Lawes both getting game time on the blindside. While there are obvious transferable skills between back row positions, Wood says he is still learning to adapt to being an eight.
“My role around the field is much the same,” he said. “I very much have got license to go and look for work, be hungry, look for tackles, look for rucks, look for ball carries so nothing changes in that respect. It changes my responsibility at the base of scrum though, that’s the biggest thing. There’s a lot more pressure on you there as it’s slightly different scrummaging at eight in the way you put your feet, how you initiate the engage, and how you control the ball when it's available to be played.
“It’s just having that balance. You don’t have to be a traditional No.8 dropping back to take kicks to scrimmage. We very much manage which role we have on any given day and who is most appropriate given the balance of the back row. Robbo has been dropping back and receiving box kicks while I have been doing my more natural game of chasing the ball, but perhaps if Ben Morgan, Thomas Waldrom and Billy Vunipola come back into the team that will change again.”
Photo: Getty Images
England will face Italy in their next RBS 6 Nations encounter, a side that has caught the attention of many a rugby fan this year with a win over France and a much-improved game across the park. While many in the media are treating the match result as a foregone conclusion, Wood says the team knows it has a job to do at Twickenham next week.
“We are just focusing on the little things and preparing as we always do. We have got a huge amount of respect for Italy – they are a quality team and they have shown what they are capable of on their day, and they get better every year. We are going to have to be on our game.
“It’s a big game for them coming to Twickenham and we are going to have to be right up there to get the win. Games are not won in the early stages, you have to grind teams down and earn the win so we are going to have to be full on but as I said, in our preparation we largely concentrate on us and what we are going to do.”
Tom Wood was at an event on behalf of the England team for QBE, the business insurance specialist and Official Insurance Partner of England Rugby. Visit QBErugby.com for more details.