- Flanker says concentration lapses hurt England in Auckland
- Wood primed to “keep the engine going” for 80 minutes
Tom Wood is the only new face in England’s starting pack for the second Test against New Zealand on Saturday and says pain-staking concentration over the entire 80 minutes will be crucial to levelling the series.
As skipper of the Aviva Premiership-winning Northampton Saints side, Wood missed last weekend’s encounter in Auckland – an encounter that saw Graham Rowntree’s forwards produce a dynamic, bullying performance despite sinking to late defeat.
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Replacing James Haskell on the blindside flank, he goes head-to-head with Liam Messam and seemed to be relishing a relentless contest under the Forsyth Barr Stadium roof to mark his 29th cap.
“It’ll be an all-round challenge,” explained the 27 year-old. “He’s very athletic, physical and abrasive. He has a high work-rate too, and usually leads the haka, so that is a good way to start the game.
“Their back row as a whole presents a challenge, really. I don’t see it as six on six, it’s more important that our back-row unit functions well. Hopefully we’ve got all bases covered with myself, Chris [Robshaw] and Ben [Morgan].
“Both teams will want to play quick and move the ball around. That can often mean there is a bit of space and opportunity for turnover when players get isolated.
“For me, it’s about keeping the engine going and being involved as much as possible. Obviously I’ve got my roles at set-piece – lineout especially – but in open play I want to try and bring myself into the game without going off-script and out of the team’s framework.”
Wood’s inclusion is a mark of his influence within Stuart Lancaster’s squad as a leadership figure. Indeed, having captained the team on tour in South America a year ago, his look back at last weekend was extremely honest.
While complimenting those who took the All Blacks to the wire at Eden Park and so nearly derailed a run of 31 consecutive wins, he dwelled far longer on some nagging lapses that let in England’s illustrious opponents.
“We’re always looking to kick on,” Wood added. “We set a good standard for ourselves last week and I was incredibly proud of the lads as I was watching. They came so close, but it also showed why New Zealand are where they are – they just have this absolute belief that they will get the job done.
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“It’s cruel to go such a distance in the game and not get over the line but those are the fine margins in top level rugby. We have to learn to be like that.
“For all the pride in that performance and effort the lads put in, there were just a few key moments that could have killed us a bit. That calls for concentration, not taking your eye off the ball for a second.”
There have now been two reverses against New Zealand since England’s famous 38-21 victory at Twickenham in 2012 – a result that incredibly remains the last All Blacks loss in 36 games.
Typically forthright, Wood finished by explaining how his teammates would summon enough self-belief to break that run.
“It’s got to be internal. There’s obviously a lot that goes on on the outside – a lot of media, a lot of hype, spin we’ve encountered over here. For us it’s about looking within the group and making sure our planning and preparation is meticulous.
“From that, belief grows. On the last three occasions, it’s been very close between [England and New Zealand]. We’ve won one and taken them to the wire a couple of times.
“It’s about having a low error-count on the day and getting the little momentum swings to go our way. Then we’ve got to be in the right area of the field so when the chance does come, we can take it.
“If we ensure our preparation is immaculate, we can pour out our emotion on the field.”