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Uncompromising Wood calls for mental steel in New Zealand

23 May 2014

  • Wood says England cannot dwell on logistical issues
  • Flanker looks to learn lessons from previous encounters with the All Blacks
Tom Wood

Photo: Getty Images

Tom Wood doesn’t indulge in unnecessary pleasantries, nor does he fret about facets beyond his control. The gnarled Northampton Saint, an influential leader within Stuart Lancaster’s England set-up, is an expert at living in the moment and fixing his focus on the challenge in hand.

In Test terms, that next hurdle is a significant one – June’s tour of New Zealand, where a three-Test series against the world champions awaits. Steve Hansen’s All Blacks have not lost a match on home territory since September 2009. The trip, which also includes an encounter against the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch, is set to provide an uncompromising examination of England’s progress ahead of Rugby World Cup 2015. 

Though a convoluted end-of-season schedule means players from the clubs that reach the Aviva Premiership final will not be available for the opener at Auckland’s Eden Park, Wood is well aware that dwelling on the “slightly unusual circumstances” could cost his side.

Dismissing those “logistical problems” rather rapidly, the 27 year-old reinforces that an encouraging RBS 6 Nations counts for very little in the Land of the Long White Cloud. The last two Anglo-Kiwi encounters have produced a victory for either team – England’s 38-21 triumph in December 2012 remaining the last All Blacks defeat before an unbeaten 2013 – and Wood says the rivalry is simmering nicely.

“It’s one thing [performing] in front of 80,000 home fans at Twickenham, it’s another thing doing it out there on New Zealand’s patch,” explains the 28-cap back-rower, who is extremely familiar with New Zealand’s rugby culture after spending a year playing in North Otago as an 18 year-old.

“They’ll have a huge amount of determination and pride not to let us get one over on them again and I know that even though they’ve beaten us since that result, they’ll still have that at the back of their minds.

“I don’t think it’s ever been difficult to get up for, we’re all proud people and we all love the idea of playing for England. I guess there are just logistical problems with injuries and it being the end of the season. Perhaps people are carrying a few knocks, perhaps your squad is compromised.”

Wood leads Northampton in the first of two finals this evening, captaining a side containing six potential England tourists against Bath in the Amlin Challenge Cup in Cardiff before the Aviva Premiership final against Saracens the following Saturday at Twickenham Stadium.

Tom Wood

Photo: Getty Images

As the man who captained England in South America a year ago, a trip that produced a historic 2-0 series success despite numerous disruptions from British and Irish Lions call-ups, he stresses the importance of maintaining a single-minded, team-first outlook.

“For us as an England team, we have to take the same attitude we took to Argentina with us,” he adds.

“We will just deal with [the scheduling]. That was our saying in Argentina. There’s going to be things that don’t go quite right for you. There’s going to be people that miss out, people that are called up to the Lions, everything else. The way to approach it is deal with it, just get on with it, have a hard edge about you.

“I don’t think anybody is going to be taking New Zealand lightly in New Zealand or thinking it’s going to be an end-of-season throw around. The trick is getting the right people there and making sure that we’re fully focussed and we gel in the short time we have.”

Wood has been a prominent part of England’s last two meetings with the All Blacks, man of the match in the euphoric win in December 2012 and playing a titanic role in hauling England into a winning position last November before the late, gut-wrenching 30-22 defeat. Both encounters were truly colossal Test matches characterised by bone-shuddering physicality and tension. Typically, Wood uncompromisingly highlights the lessons from their most recent reverse at Twickenham.

Tom Wood takes a lineout

Photo: Getty Images

Shipping tries to Julian Savea and the irrepressible Kieran Read, England saw themselves 17-3 behind after the first quarter before asserting a long period of dominance up front and actually re-taking the lead in the second period. However, a stunning piece of skill from centre Ma’a Nonu then freed Savea for a second and the hosts’ challenge was sunk. The nature of the final 20 minutes demonstrated the value of composure, and Wood is eager that his international teammates to take the experience on board.

“I don’t want to dwell too much on the win that we had,” he adds. “That was a stepping stone for us but we’re not going to be hanging our hat on that for the rest of our lives. We want to move beyond that.

“It was frustrating for me that we lost last year because I felt that we could have easily beaten them. We obviously showed what character and talent we do have when we got back into the game and back into a winning position. We just perhaps lacked a little bit of control and temperament in terms of closing the game out and also the fact that we’d given an awful lot to the cause in order to get back into that winning position.

“It’s a nightmare when you give a team like New Zealand a 17-3 head start, we just can’t afford that, which was the frustrating thing for me. After such an offensive game we brought to them two years ago, I felt we were a little bit rabbit in the headlights, we stood off them a little bit star struck for them first ten minutes and gave them that start and after that we were always chasing our tails a bit.

“We will take confidence [from getting on top of their pack for 50 minutes] but we’ll also take the learnings from it. We know where we’ve got to better. While you give them the absolute respect they deserve because they are the world champions and have a huge track record, at the same time, I’ve always said, they’re only human and it’s 15 on 15. You get among them, get the momentum on the day and who knows.”

See a video feature about Tom Wood and his year in New Zealand as an 18 year-old on on Tuesday.