New lease of life for Saints flanker Wood

While much has been said and written about the impact Chris Boyd's arrival has had on the younger members of the Saints squad, the influence on the senior stars should not be forgotten.

By Tom Vickers
Thursday, 5th December 2019, 7:00 am
The arrival of Chris Boyd at Saints has been key for flanker Wood
The arrival of Chris Boyd at Saints has been key for flanker Wood

One of those is the man who took over Phil Dowson's role as 'the Squadfather', flanker Tom Wood.

At the age of 33 and with 198 Northampton appearances under his belt, you might think there isn't much more for Wood to learn about the game.

But that is not how the back row forward feels and he has soaked up every word of wisdom from the likes of Boyd and attack coach Sam Vesty since their arrival at Saints during the summer of 2018.

Tom Wood is in fine form for Saints

Consequently, he has taken his game to a new level, with his offloading work in particular catching the eye.

He impressed yet again as his team thrashed Leicester Tigers 36-13 in a Gallagher Premiership game at Franklin's Gardens last Saturday.

And Wood is loving his work as part of a structure that is really paying dividends for the men in black, green and gold.

"With Boydy at the helm and with Sam Vesty's attacking framework in particular, it's great," Wood said.

"We've put a lot of trust in youngsters and I've been the 'Squadfather' at times when senior boys have been away internationally.

"In the PRC (Premiership Rugby Cup) I ended up playing a lot of those games when there were a lot of young players playing and it kind of brought me to the fore a little bit.

"I felt like I was a real senior figure pulling things together.

"The style and the framework we play encourages me to get my hands on the ball, to carry, to offload, to move the ball and play to space.

"When the team's playing well, we're scoring tries and running the ball in space, you just look good amongst it.

"Everyone looks good when you're playing a good brand of rugby.

"When you're playing a stodgy brand of rugby and you don't really know what you're doing - we went through a couple of years of looking a bit lost out there with boys trying to go off on their own agenda and try to fix things themselves out of frustration and disappointment at what we're doing - the team ends up playing badly and you don't look particularly good in it.

"The only way you can look good is like what Jamie Gibson did because he stood out as someone who fought to the death, a brave manner in the back row, but he never did the sort of things he's doing now when he's running down the wing and making offloads and all the rest of it.

"As a back row player, we've got a good balance, we're asked to get on the ball, to handle, to move it and just generally it's a more dynamic game, a most positive brand of rugby that we're playing and we all look good within that.

"Obviously when you get results it's easy to buy in and enjoy the process."

Wood is also being helped by the fact he is not being asked to put his body on the line every single week.

He was recently given a rest as Saints travelled to Treviso, where they beat Benetton in a Champions Cup clash.

It gave Wood a welcome chance to freshen up mentally and physically ahead of derby day last weekend.

But he still kept in touch with events in Italy.

"I do watch it - I always watch if it's on TV to make sure I'm in touch with what's going on," he said.

"But I just watch it as a fan to be honest, supporting the boys.

"You just try to make the best of it either way. If you're playing, you get your head around it and you enjoy it for what it is.

"If I was put on the bench or as a travelling reserve, I would have done all of things I would if I was starting.

"When you get the opportunity to just have a complete down week you can change your whole training structure.

"If you're on the bench you have to do all the things the team are doing and tag along all week, you can never go too hard in training and do extra fitness or weights.

"I tried to do that last year and I was on inside three minutes because Teimana (Harrison), who is Mr Durable and hardly ever gets injured, came off.

"There's always a chance that happens so you've got to be ready if you're on the bench, whereas if they say you're having a week off aside from catasrophic injuries in the same position you can get your head round some proper training, train early in the morning and get home a bit earlier.

"It's just nice to freshen up all round really."

And it is not just having a weekend off that helps Wood.

He is being given the freedom to mix things up during the week, ensuring he is at his best when game day comes.

Wood explained: "The training structure, the way we do things here and the freedom I have as a more senior player to manage my week really well and talk with the S&C guys about what I need to do, just allows me to feel really good going into weekends.

"Playing the game is always great, I feel good in that, the challenge is always Monday, Tuesday, training on the back of it and trying to recover like you used to.

"The game's so intense these days everyone feels that way, but as an older guy with more miles on the clock, it's the recovery stage that takes more out of you than anything."