- Flanker happy with England's back-row balance
- Wood says England must be “on their mettle” in Paris
Tom Wood believes England have the chance to make a statement to the rest of Europe with the tough RBS 6 Nations opener against France in Paris on February 1.
If Stuart Lancaster’s have designs on emerging from the Stade de France with a second successive victory, back row man Wood will need to be at his all-action best, given the impressive recent Heineken Cup performances from a number of French loose-trio options.
Although Les Bleus look set to be shorn of indefatigable former captain Thierry Dusatoir – who completed the most turnovers (eight) and the fourth most tackles (58) in the 2013 tournament – with a chest injury, his Toulouse cohorts Yannick Nyanga and Louis Picamoles showed their strength in over-powering Saracens recently.
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Appreciating the importance of “switching off” from the high-pressure world of professional rugby, Wood admits he does not any longer religiously watch every game and analyse every opponent, but the 27 year-old is well aware the performances of French packs in Europe.
With England’s 35-man RBS 6 Nations training squad meeting up at Pennyhill Park to start their tournament preparations today, Wood said: “France have got a powerful pack, their back-rowers are on form and their packs are going well in the Heineken Cup. We’ll have to be full-on [to win] but that’s no different to any other week.
“I’m aware that Toulouse beat Saracens recently, which is no mean feat. You never quite know what you’re going to get with the French; they could pick their third or fourth string international front row and it would still be a very good, strong scrummaging pack. We’ll have to be out our mettle.
“It’s important we start the Six Nations well and there is no better place to go and make a statement first up. When we play France in France it’s always a big occasion and a chance to test ourselves.”
Saracens No.8 Billy Vunipola debuted to universal acclaim in last autumn’s QBE Internationals, joining Wood and captain Chris Robshaw in the England back row. In chalking up wins over Australia and Argentina before narrowly losing to world champions New Zealand, Wood believes they are approaching the highly sought-after balance to cover the wide ranging demands on backrow trios in modern rugby.
Discussing the considerable impact 21 year-old Vunipola made against the best of the southern hemisphere, Wood said: “I’d like to think we are building a relationship where we’re getting that kind of bond and so we have that instinct on the pitch and know what each other is going to do.
“We complement each other quite well. You’ve got the balance of breakdown, ball-carrying, tackle ferocity and lineout ability covered and I think the crucial thing is to have all those covered.
“It’s one of those when you’re glad Billy is on your side and not on the opposition. He’s renowned for his ball-carrying, he’s a big strong lad and he’s worked incredibly hard on his fitness which allows him to get into the game more and more.
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“It’s great to know that if you’re clearing the rucks and doing the dirty work on the floor then someone like Billy Vunipola is going to capitalise on it. The last thing you want as a defender is to be on the back foot while he comes round the corner at full speed.”
Wood missed the 2012 RBS 6 Nations, when interim head coach Lancaster led the team to three away wins for the first time in history, and played the majority of the 2013 tournament with eight on his back after Ben Morgan injured his ankle in the opening victory over Scotland at Twickenham.
While he is set for an extended run in the six shirt, Wood added that the number he wears has no relevance for how he approaches the game and would play anywhere for England.
“I’m looking forward to some games if selected and if fit because you can only really live one week at a time in that respect,” he added. “But I’m not bothered if I play six, seven or eight. Play me at half back if you want and I’ll be out there giving it my best. It doesn’t change the way I play the game.
“I played like a flanker [last year] even though I was at eight, I just had a bit more responsibility at the base of the scrum. I didn’t do the back field role, dropping back and receiving kicks in the way a traditional eight would.
“But it doesn’t really make any difference; so long as I’m out there in a white shirt I’ll be happy.”