World Cup winner Will Greenwood fears Tom Wood’s versatility on the international stage could end up costing the Northampton Saint a spot on this summer’s Lions tour to Australia.
Following an injury to Gloucester No.8 Ben Morgan in the opening Six Nations fixture against Scotland, Wood was moved from his preferred blindside flanker position to the base of the scrum.
He excelled against Ireland in Dublin as England sneaked a narrow 12-6 win and retained his position for the matches against France, Italy and against Wales in the Championship decider at the Millennium Stadium.
Like the majority of his international colleagues at the Millennium Stadium, Wood experienced an evening to forget in Cardiff as Wales halted England’s Grand Slam charge, winning at a canter 30-3.
Wood was very much second best to his opposite number, Wales No.8 Toby Faletau, and Greenwood fears the Millennium Stadium humiliation could come back to haunt the utility back-row forward.
“What is Tom Wood’s best position? Is it six or is it seven? It’s not eight, we know that now,” said Greenwood, who is a J.P Morgan Premier Rugby 7 Series ambassador.
“When you look at the likes of Toby Faletau, Sergio Parisse, Louis Picamoles, and what they can do and the skill-set you can offer at that position then Tom doesn’t compare.
“Picking off the base, controlling the back of the scrum, the clever balls back inside, fielding high kicks behind the forwards, it’s a demanding position that demands a specialist.
“Tom Wood is the kind of player who wants to have his head in dark places, to be turning the ball over when he can.
“He needs to be in amongst the action, very rarely does someone like Tom Wood have empty hands on a rugby pitch, be it his teammates’ shirt, an opponents’ shirt or indeed the ball, No.8 looks for a slightly different role.
“In a really physical game we did not see him in Cardiff. The competition for places is now so strong for places in that back-row for the Lions that he could be in danger.
“Look at the likes of Ben Morgan and Nick Easter, specialist No.8s who could still come into contention and it could cost him.
“And it’s always the way, you move out of position for the good of the team and it can end up costing you for Lions selection.
“If Ben Morgan stays fit then Tom Wood does not have to move to eight during this Six Nations, he stays at six and then goes on this Lions tour.
“Someone else’s injury can have a butterfly effect on your hopes and that is what has happened here.”
The manner of England’s hammering against Wales in the final weekend of the Six Nations will have left Lions boss Warren Gatland with some serious reservations about the mental toughness of Lancaster’s men, says Greenwood.
And the former Lions tourist believes events at the Millennium Stadium will have swung selections spots firmly in the direction of Cardiff and not Twickenham.
“If England had won against Wales; all 15 of the starters would have been on the plane to Australia, England loses and Gatland has to have a look again,” added Greenwood.
“Now all of a sudden you go through the Welsh side and you have to think to yourself, who out of that team is not going on the Lions tour?
“Warren Gatland needs to know that when the chips are down who will stand up and produce.
“It’s not like the Six Nations where the next year you’ve got a chance to do it all over again, it’s one off Test matches.
“So when you look at the team selection Gatland has to be thinking, what’s the ultimate cauldron that I have seen these guys in this year?
“And the answer is definitely last weekend at the Millennium Stadium.
“The chips were down on last weekend, it was a huge opportunity for England to win the Grand Slam and on top of that put a real marker down to Australia but they didn’t.”
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