Wood calls for England's pack to have 'no fear' ahead of Boks battle
23:21 GMT, 20 November 2012
Tom Wood delivered a stirring call to arms for England’s embattled pack, with a statement of intent about the ‘dog’ work and ‘no fear’ mentality, the aggression and ferocity, which will be needed to trump the mighty Springbok forwards on Saturday.
The Northampton flanker is poised for a recall to the starting XV when Stuart Lancaster names his line-up for the third of four QBE Internationals this autumn, after making a positive impact off the bench in last weekend’s defeat against Australia.
Having been unavailable for the national team’s first eight Tests of 2012 due to a lingering, alarming foot injury, Wood is fired up for a long-awaited return to the first-choice team, in a fixture which suits his abrasive qualities.
Set to start: Tom Wood is in line to start for England against South Africa
Before getting to grips with South Africa at Twickenham, the 26-year-old made his presence felt by demanding England fight fire with fire up front when they take on the Boks. Lancaster’s pack were surprisingly outgunned by the Wallabies last Saturday and Wood’s recall is designed to give them a harder edge.
On Tuesday, he set his stall out to do just that. His powerful words served to illustrate why Lancaster identified him as captain-in-waiting before the foot failed him, and why the head coach may harness his leadership qualities in the future.
Asked if England’s pack need to show a nastier streak, he insisted that they possessed plenty of ‘dog’ (aggressive/fighting qualities), but added: ‘I think it is something we will try to address, not that we have been soft in recent weeks, but with the physical challenge that is coming our way at the weekend, there has got to be an element of that.
‘That is definitely something I would look to bring to the team if I was selected — an enthusiasm and a level of aggression that raises the intensity. It varies in terms of what each ref will let you get away with and how the game unfolds, but getting on the edge of that line is part of any back-row’s role and something I would look to focus on.’
Forward thinker: Wood takes on Australia
England are bracing themselves for a traditional Springbok onslaught, with heavy ball-carriers blasting forward to create route-one momentum, as they did so effectively against Lancaster’s side in Johannesburg back in June. Wood wasn’t involved that day, but he is well aware what is coming and what the home team have to do to combat it.
‘It’s going to be a tough physical challenge but we’re ready for it, so if we don’t meet it head-on, I will be surprised and disappointed,’ he said. ‘We are capable of fronting-up physically. There are areas of the game where you can’t avoid that physical confrontation — the breakdown, the scrum.
‘The challenge for us is largely psychological. They’re the type of players that, as opposed to running at space, pick out somebody to run at. James Haskell, who has experienced Super 15 rugby, says playing South African sides is like a man-test. They look for your biggest guy and get theirs to run at him as hard as they can to see who comes out on top. There will be an element of that at the weekend. It’s us against them.
Putting the practice in: Wood during training at Pennyhill Park
High jump: Wood catches the ball during line-out practice
‘If you show any fear and back off to any extent you’ve got a long day at the office. But if you can match it head-on — if somebody comes charging in, teeth gritted, full of rage, and gets his legs lassooed on the gain line and spills the ball or gets turned over, then that turns to frustration and has a big negative effect on them.
‘The early exchanges will be really important psychologically. It’s about showing everybody — yourselves more than anyone — that you’re capable of dealing with it.’
As he spoke, Wood could scarcely contain his enthusiasm for the confrontations that await on Saturday. There was a constant smile, a glint in the eye, as he set his sights on the Springboks.
‘That’s the type of game I love playing,’ he said. ‘I’m very combative and I like to get stuck in. This challenge South Africa present is exactly the type I enjoy.’
England’s management want to harness the angst in the ranks on the back of their 20-14 loss to Australia, much as the Wallabies rallied from a humbling setback in Paris to win at Twickenham. But amid all the talk of a backlash, Andy Farrell insisted it had to be a smart response too, not just all fire and brimstone.
Having declared that the hosts have to ‘man-up’ to cope with the Bok threat, he added: ‘What I was impressed with about Australia last week was that all the chat was about the backlash but they were very composed, even though the pressure was on them. They were clinical and executed very well.
‘That is the key. You can go, “Backlash, backlash, backlash”, but what does it mean You have got to be accurate. We have to keep our composure. We can’t just be a raging bull in a china shop. You hope for a lot of emotion but if you run around enraged for 20 minutes you will be knackered. You have to use it in the right way.’