Wood wants Saints to avoid tense final-day tussle at Tigers

Saints beat Tigers at Franklin's Gardens back in December, but Tom Wood (left) doesn't want them to have to do it again on the final day (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Saints beat Tigers at Franklin's Gardens back in December, but Tom Wood (left) doesn't want them to have to do it again on the final day (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Tom Wood pictures the nightmare scenario as he discusses the importance of Saturday’s showdown with Saracens.

But it is not what awaits Saints at stadium:mk this weekend that concerns him.

It is the consequences of that clash and, more specifically, the consequences of a defeat, that inspire a degree of anxiety.

Foillowing the recent reverse at Exeter, Saints have seen their lead at the top of the Premiership table chopped by Saracens and Bath.

With three games to go, they still boast a healthy six-point lead, but a slip up this Saturday could be a sizeable blow.

Because if Saracens can win - and win well - they could narrow the gap to just a single point.

And with Bath facing a favourable run-in, Saints’ chances of securing a home play-off semi-final would be in serious jeopardy.

Especially when you consider where they have to go the week after their final home fixture against London Welsh on May 9.

“It would be really nice not to have to go to Leicester on the last day with everything on the line under massive pressure,” said Wood.

“It would be nice to go and put pressure on them (Leicester) from the comfort of a home semi-final.

“And also to play London Welsh with the ability to mix things up and rest the players that may need it.

“If we lose and lose badly again at the weekend, we’re under desperate pressure to regather some momentum and time is running out.

“A good win against a top team like Saracens gives us the luxury of rotating a couple of players if necessary.

“We can solidify that home semi-final early and build some momentum nice and early going into the semi-finals and final.”

But to do that, Wood knows Saints must improve ‘across the board’.

One area that has come under severe scrutiny during the days since the defeat at Sandy Park on April 12 is the scrum, with forwards coach Dorian West working his magic on the paddock.

“Our scrum, that is usually a huge asset of ours, where teams have really feared us in the past, is not firing at the minute,” said Wood.

“We’ve had homework to do and we’ve done what Dorian West calls ‘scrum fitness’, which was interesting.

“It pretty much consisted of 50 scrums on the bounce live, followed by some live mauling and things like that just to re-establish out set piece game and get some real volume into our training.

“We feel like we’ve let ourselves down a little bit in that respect during the past couple of weeks.

“We’ll hopefully be a bit fresher than Saracens and with all that hard work in the bank, it’s an area of our game we can really impose on them.”

So does Wood feel opposition teams now target the Saints scrum?

“There have been occasions when we’ve relied on it and it’s got us through games,” Wood said.

“We’ve almost relied on it a little bit too much.

“We’ve tried to build a more complete game now

and a side effect is that our scrum hasn’t had so much attention.

“We’ve got to get back to our basics a bit more because it’s all very nice having the shape to play wide and more elaborately, but your foundations of scrum and lineout still have to be there.

“It’s something we’ve built a real reputation for and we won’t let it go lightly.”

One big boost for the Saints pack is that they will have one of their chief destroyers back in the mix this weekend.

Courtney Lawes, having only played the first half in the crushing defeat at Clermont and having missed the Exeter loss, is fit to return from a shoulder injury.

And Wood knows how vital his England team-mate will be this weekend, hoping the lock’s fear factor will have an effect on Saracens and, more specifically, their fly-halves.

“We’ve got a strong squad and really good players who have been filling in for Courtney of late, but he’s a hell of an athlete,” said the flanker.

“He has an effect on the opposition without even doing anything to a degreee.

“The likes of Charlie Hodgson, who has been on the receiving end of him in the past, will hopefully be aware of him on the field.”