- England flanker urges intense approach to Ireland clash
- Wood eyes O'Mahony battle
Tom Wood says primal physicality and emotional intensity will help England strangle the influence of Peter O’Mahony and Ireland’s big names during Saturday’s enormous RBS 6 Nations clash at Twickenham.
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Typically unfussy and awkward to play against, Wood has been quietly excellent in the first two matches of the tournament, backing up an industrious shift in Paris with more graft at Murrayfield – hitting 36 rucks over the course of a 20-0 defeat of Scotland.
A major leadership figure in Stuart Lancaster’s set-up, the blindside flanker’s industry has set the tone for a pair of dynamic performances from England’s pack.
His opposite number this weekend is O’Mahony, whose influence on Ireland’s twin wins has been equally totemic. His turnovers at the breakdown against Wales were greeted with howls of delight from his cohorts in the pack and the 24 year-old Munsterman will be out to deliver another talismanic showing en route to a Triple Crown. Wood is prepared for a mighty individual tussle.
“Looking at the Ireland side, [O’Mahony] is probably their barometer in terms of energy and work-rate,” he said. “He’s very abrasive around the breakdown, and getting himself into a good shape over the ball. He also makes good decisions though, and knows when not to waste a bullet and stay in the defensive line.
“We need to get a lot of people to the line so they have to make decisions and can’t gang-tackle in numbers. We’ll nullify some of their individuals if we do that. If we present easy targets with one-out runners, they’ll have a field day.
“You always look at your opposite numbers and have some rivalry there, but it’s never a case of whoever gets ahead out of myself and Peter O’Mahony wins the game – it’s 15 on 15. I can’t just charge around hitting every ruck, I have to make sure I’m in the right place at the right time.
“It’s about having all bases covered. Having said that, the breakdown is crucial in any game and whoever gets ascendancy there will probably win.”
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Wood’s experiences in Northampton Saints’ Heineken Cup double-header against Leinster this season have reinforced his belief that a stripped-back focus on the bare bones tends to pay dividends.
Having been thrashed 40-7 at Franklin’s Gardens, the East Midlands outfit beat the three-time champions a week later – a result Wood attributes almost entirely to mind-set.
“That first week we got a bit caught up in the occasion,” he added. “We did a lot of talking in the week, looked at the tiny details and brought in a few new things. At the end of the day, all of that is irrelevant if you don’t get it by the scruff of the neck. We gave Leinster a way into the game by being a bit sand-offish and they ran riot.
“The following week we scrapped the playbook and went back to basics. Obviously a huge motivating factor was the hurt we’d suffered the week before. We were on edge with our pride at stake – that’s what it comes down to. Rugby’s an emotional game and when you get that out on the field, that’s 90 per cent of your job done.
“The win was almost inevitable. I knew that wasn’t the real Northampton. Leinster aren’t a 40-point better team than us. We’re both fiercely competitive and it comes down to something we call ‘emotional momentum’.
“It’ll be the same on Saturday – if we stand off in awe of the Brian O’Driscolls and the Paul O’Connells and they get a firm hold on the game, it’ll be a long afternoon.”
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Two consecutive wins for England over Ireland have been built on overwhelming forward ascendancy. In 2012 at Twickenham a front row of Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole dismantled Declan Kidney’s charges, while 12 months ago, the hosts were squeezed out 12-6 in sodden conditions.
Taking a degree of encouragement from those results but warning against a fired up Irish pack, Wood suggested tomorrow’s tussle up front would be no less pivotal.
“We’ve shown what it takes to beat a quality side like Ireland and how ordinary we can make top players look when you collectively get hold of the game, when your forwards get dominance and you have a kicker who can convert that into pressure and points.
“The bigger the game, the simpler it becomes for me. If you get caught up in the hype and the one-on-one battles, you get distracted. It’s about recognising the fundamentals of rugby that win you games – you need solid defence, you need energy, you need to get off the line.
“The set-piece needs to function and be well-drilled. The second you start throwing miracle passes, you give the opposition a chance.”