Wood sets sights on England comeback… via archery, rifle assembly and shed building
21:30 GMT, 21 September 2012
There are various ways for a player to deal with the spectre of long-term injury and the fear that a burgeoning career is in jeopardy. Tom Wood built a shed — on stilts. He took up archery. And he learned about assembling and using rifles.
These were necessary outlets for his concerns and confusion. The injury to his left foot which struck at the start of this year was meant to require a quick fix; just a few weeks of rest, with the aid of a protective boot.
That was before it became apparent the extent of his condition — stemming from the separation of two tiny sesamoid bones behind a big toe — was ‘almost unheard of’.
Poised: Tom Wood is aiming to make his England comeback
So the Northampton flanker missed England’s defence of the Six Nations title under new head coach Stuart Lancaster, having played a key role in the 2011 success.
He returned too soon and a freak incident led to a broken toe to compound the problems, before he ripped the arch of his foot in the LV= Cup final defeat against Leicester.
All the indications were that Wood had been the leading contender for the England captaincy before he was forced out of action. Instead, Chris Robshaw seized the role in fine style, while the 25-year-old Saint faced up to months of inactivity and angst.
‘It was a worrying time,’ he said. ‘I was wondering if I would ever run properly again. I genuinely thought that when I was told I’d have to go in a boot and miss a few weeks of rugby, that I would soon come back and be part of a new regime under Stuart Lancaster.
'I didn’t think for a minute that not only would I miss the whole Six Nations, I’d miss play-offs for Northampton and the England tour, too.
Lesson: Wood shows Chris Foy the ropes and picks arrows out of the target (below)
‘When I found out, I got angry at everyone. At the medics for not knowing more, for not understanding it better. I wanted clarity and nobody could provide it. It was no-one’s fault, but it was my career that was in jeopardy and I started looking back, questioning everything.
‘I’m my own worst enemy in a way — I was putting my hand up and saying, “I’m OK to play”.’
Wood is a driven character. He needed a way of filling the void where rugby should have been, so he turned his attentions to ‘a few projects’.
‘I’ll show you how my frustration came out,’ he said, before revealing a picture on his phone of a shed on stilts in his garden.
‘It’s a two-metre-high shed with two-and-a-half-metre stilts holding it up. It’s for hunting, I use it as a “hide”. It was a week of angry sawing and hammering, breaking wood, making a mess.
‘I built that not long after I’d found out I wouldn’t be playing rugby for months. I went into a dark place on my own, I wallowed and got angry at everything, then I took it out on some wood!’
Constructive: Wood built his own shed while recovering
The fondness for hunting developed in New Zealand years ago, when Wood was furthering his rugby education.
‘I will go deer-stalking and might get the odd muntjac,’ he said. ‘I will skin it and butcher it myself. I take off all the steaks and eat them, take the haunches off and have that in a roast. I take off every scrap of meat then give it to the butcher down the road.’
Wood being Wood, he won’t settle for just pursuing the activity, he is fascinated about the processes behind it. In this case, he became intrigued by the rifles themselves. ‘I’m very interested in the engineering side of ballistics and rifle-building,’ he said.
‘It’s a fairly recent hobby. Steve Thompson (ex-Northampton and England hooker) knew a guy here from UK Gunworks. He lives round the corner and builds rifles from his house.
'I get into the physics behind how it all works. He teaches me how to tune rifles and how ammo works. I while away time reading about what powder burns fastest and things like that.’
Experimental: Wood sometimes spends days playing with his archery kit
Of course, that particular hobby requires suitable locations while Wood needed an activity which could be pursued more easily.
One day, someone showed him a bow and arrow and how to operate it. Instantly hooked, he dashed off to buy one. ‘I spend much of my time firing arrows at targets, modifying arrows, making them shorter, trying different weights, measuring how fast they’re going, all that kind of stuff. I can waste whole days doing that,’ he said.
‘I watched the Olympic archery. I wanted to see how they do things differently. I am always experimenting, to see what works best. I practise at the club. I set up targets on the back pitches behind Franklin’s Gardens.’
Happily, Wood is an active rugby player again, gradually recovering stability in his troublesome foot. He has played all three of Northampton’s opening Aviva Premiership games — three full 80-minute stints — although he is among the replacements for Saturday’s visit of his former club, Worcester. The path back to his personal peak is still before him.
Looking forward: Wood is still getting back to his best
‘I’m not 100 per cent,’ he said. ‘The foot isn’t as strong as the other foot yet, but it’s getting better every week. I’m on the up again, but I’m frustrated because I don’t feel I’m the player I was before getting injured. I’m probably 15-20 per cent off where I can be.’
Asked if he would fancy the job of leading his country one day, he added: ‘It’s not something I’d strive for or get worked up about, but if it ever came my way I’d be very proud and I’d give it a good shot.’
For now, he has the more immediate target of rediscovering his best form to push for an autumn Test recall. ‘I want to be back at my best for Northampton,’ he said. ‘I think that when I am, I will be in contention to be back in the England team — whether it’s at six, seven or eight. I’d play at scrum-half for England if that’s what they wanted!'