Warrior Wood ready to lead the Saints charge
When a man plays top level rugby for you with the use of just one arm, you know he is captain material.
Warrior Tom Wood did just that during the second half of last season as he soldiered on, despite a long-standing neck problem that restricted movement in his left arm.
His impressive performances, despite full mobility, helped Saints to secure the Champions Cup spot they craved via a fifth-place finish in the Aviva Premiership.
And Wood then had long-awaited surgery to put his neck right and restore him to the levels he was accustomed to.
The fact that he played at ‘15 per cent’ and his so with such vigour and desire outlines exactly what Wood is all about.
And his unstinting commitment to the cause meant it was an easy decision for Jim Mallinder to make him Saints captain for the new season.
Wood is cherishing the role and he is just happy to be able to perform it in a much better condition that he was towards the back end of the previous campaign.
“I don’t know whether getting to 100 per cent is a realistic expectation but I’m a million miles away from where I was in the middle of last season,” the 29-year-old said.
“I was down to around 15 per cent strength in that left arm at one stage and really battling. I was having pins and needles, twitching and all sorts of nonsense going on in my left arm.
“I’ve not had any of those symptoms for a long time now and my strength is back up there, around 80, 85 per cent and if I can play at 15 per cent, I can certainly play at that.
“I do feel human again and I’m looking forward to playing like that again.”
And when asked to give more detail about how difficult it was to play with the neck injury last season, Wood says: “I wasn’t really playing through the pain - I was playing without an arm,” Wood said.
“It wasn’t painful, it was just like it wasn’t there.
“Because the nerve was pinched so severely I lost feeling in it. It was uncomfortable and awkward and strength and co-ordination were an issue, contact was an issue.
“It wasn’t so much pain, the pain I had was spasm around the neck area where things had locked up to protect it.
“But out in that first pre-season game in France I felt good, strong, I’ve had a good pre-season where I’ve been able to get that strength back up and I feel ready to go.”
Whether he has one arm or two arms, Wood always puts his heart and soul into life at Saints.
And he has set about steeling the team for the season ahead, desperately seeking to mould the players together as they look to improve on last season’s disappointment, which saw Saints miss out on a top-four spot for the first time since 2009.
“I’ve been here from day one in pre-season so I’ve been able to set my stall out a little bit,” said Wood, who missed last year’s pre-season due to being on World Cup duty with England.
“There was an important review on the back of last season, a lot of disappointment and we felt we had to change a few things.
“I’ve tried to drive it as much as I can.
“One of the things we needed to learn from last year was the cohesion in the group and, if we’re honest, because of the World Cup players coming back in late, it all felt a little bit disjointed.
“Because we didn’t get off to a great start there becomes a bit of a divide between the 23 and the non-23. That’s a big work on for us and we’ve focused on it during the pre-season.
“Getting the lads together off the field is important and you earn each other’s respect on the pitch with the graft, the commitment and the bravery.
“Also, you’ve got to get to know each other off the field, we’ve made a great start and hopefully that will show when the games are up and running.”
Saints have enjoyed a team bonding trip to France, which included a friendly against Castres, in which Wood scored.
And they are now desperate to hit the ground running, which was something they didn’t do last season as they suffered a shock defeat at Worcester Warriors on the opening night.
“It is important to start well,” said Wood ahead of Saturday’s season opener against Bath.
“We’ve got a good home draw to start with and hopefully we can get off on the right foot.
“Losing at Worcester in the opening game last season really put us on the back foot and after a really positive pre-season - everyone always feels like they’ve done a good pre-season and are ready to go - to go and lose your first game to Worcester, one of the bottom few teams, puts you on the back foot.
“A bit of doubt creeps in and then international players come back in and don’t really know where they stand.
“That was one of the issues last season and hopefully we’ve addressed all of that and a good clean start to the season, hopefully a win on day one in front of our home crowd and then we’re up and running.”
Wood still has fond memories of his first appearance at the Gardens, when Saints tamed Leicester Tigers in a 27-19 victory in September, 2010.
And he is hoping the likes of Louis Picamoles and Nic Groom, who have moved to Saints this summer, will have similarly happy recollections of their Northampton bow.
“I remember my first game at the club and it was brilliant,” Wood said. “I got the opportunity to run out for the first time in a Saints shirt at home in a big game against Leicester.
“This one against Bath is a big home game on day one, a great occasion and it will be great for the likes of Louis (Picamoles). It really sets the tone for them and hopefully it will be a good occasion for us.”