The Tom Wood Interview: Part One
Tom Wood openly admits it was far from an easy decision to extend his career by another year.
A player who has spent his life not only competing, but starring, at the top level is desperate to go out with a bang.
He doesn’t want to be a punch-drunk boxer racking up the fights for the sake of it.
And he doesn’t want to wreck the reputation he has built up at Saints, becoming a club legend after arriving from Worcester Warriors in the summer of 2010.
But with Wood still producing huge performances week after week, there was a clamour for him to continue with life at Franklin’s Gardens.
And in the end, the calls were answered as the 34-year-old put pen to paper on a one-year extension earlier this month.
“It was all very late to be honest,” Wood said.
“It’s been a strange year and between myself and the club we’ve been trying to decide what’s best moving forward.
“I’ll be honest, I was very close to retiring but with my recent run of form and fitness and us being relatively light on personnel in the back row, I decided to go one more year.
“I think I’ve got another good season in me.
“There was talk about whether it could be a part-time basis or a mentoring senior player role, but the reality is - I’m either all in or all out. If I’m going to be here I’ve got to be a genuine contender for selection and giving it everything.
“You can’t be part-time in this game, you’ve got to be 100 per cent committed so that was the decision in the end.
“I’m delighted to be staying, I’m really enjoying it at the minute and I think I’ve got a lot more to offer so I’ll keep going.”
So who really pushed for the contract extension? Was it Wood or the coaching team?
“It was a combination really,” said the 50-cap England flanker.
“I had that health scare with my blood clot last year and with injuries in previous seasons so maybe the club are thinking that as you get older you’re more and more of a risk in that respect.
“But I think I’ve proven my fitness and for my own personal point of view I’m very busy away from the club and the injuries and wear and tear all starts to take its toll.
“It’s inevitable that you’ve got to move on at some point and it was just a question mark about whether this year was the right year.
“I always promised myself that I would get out while the going was good, that I wouldn’t be punch-drunk and play to my last breath.
“There’s a lot of life to live after rugby and I don’t want to be hobbling about too much.
“I don’t want to be playing when I’m well past my best and not able to live up to my reputation.
“Every time you play, you’re putting your reputation and your health on the line and you can only do that for so long and continue to sustain it.
“I’d rather get out six months or a year too early and be sat at home thinking I could still be out there than to be out on the pitch knowing I can no longer keep up.
“I don’t want to be in a training week in the depths of winter carrying broken bones, torn muscle and bruises and things and thinking ‘I’m not up to it any more’.
“It’s becoming a younger man’s game so it’s all about getting the timing right.
“These are all the things that have been going through my head and probably the coaches’ head as to when the club moves on and when I move on.
“It’s been a mutual thing and we did leave it fairly late in the day but eventually we decided the time is not quite yet, maybe 12 months’ time.”
Wood can certainly still keep up, showing few signs of age as he continues to mature like a fine wine.
But with injuries so prevalent in the modern game, you wonder just how his family felt about him opting to keep playing.
“It is a group decision, a team decision for my family,” he said. “You take advice from your mum and dad, your Mrs and you look into life after rugby and that’s a step you’ve got to make at some stage.
“It’s about trying to get the timing right so it works for everybody.
“I wouldn’t want to leave the club in the lurch and let them down, but at the same time you’ve got to think of your own health and life after rugby.
“My family were eager for me to play on really and they seemed more worried about me retiring than I did, just because you’re a long time retired and it’s an exciting place to be here.
“It’s a great place to come and work, it’s great for my family to come and watch and that’s what you’ve built your life around for the last 12 years or whatever.”
But would Wood consider staying on at Saints beyond his playing days in a coaching capacity if offered the chance?
“It’s not something I’m especially ambitious for, to be a full-time or professional coach,” he said.
“I would never say never and I don’t want to rule it out. If opportunities were to arise I would consider them, but I’m thinking about a life away from rugby to an extent.
“There are many good things about being a professional rugby player but there are some comprimises you have to make in terms of your schedule, and you are a slave to the schedule.
“Things change on you quite a lot of the time, you can’t book holidays, you lose your Christmas, you lose your Easter, you can’t go skiing.
“While some people love coaching, it would frustrate the hell out of me because I’m very much a doer and I struggle with people who don’t share my mindset.
“Being a coach isn’t just about knowing rugby, it’s a about being able to manage people, and I’m quite stubborn so I expect things to be done a certain way and I’m not sure I’d fit the mould of a coach in that respect.
“But who knows - there might be some sort of niche role for me or something.
“I would like to stay connected to the club in some way, I aim to stay local longer term.
“I wouldn’t be walking out of the gates with a view to never coming back or anything like that.”