Wood feels Saints can deal with extra expectation
When Chris Boyd arrived at Saints last summer, it was widely acknowledged among the club’s fanbase that a transitional season would be in store.
But with the new-look coaching and playing staff quietly believing anything was possible, the bar continued to rise as Saints started to gain momentum.
A sluggish start to the season eventually ended and the black, green and gold really got up and running.
A superb home success against Wasps and a crucial away win against Worcester Warriors felt like key moments.
The cloud that had gathered over Franklin’s Gardens during recent years started to lift.
And as it did, Saints began to shine, with the final match of the year bringing a seismic success against Exeter Chiefs in Northampton.
The second half of the season proved particularly productive as Saints pushed Clermont Auvergne all the way in a European Challenge Cup quarter-final at Stade Marcel Michelin.
And Boyd was able to bring a trophy to his new team in his first season in charge as Saints beat Saracens in the Premiership Rugby Cup final at the Gardens.
The black, green and gold went on to edge into fourth in the Gallagher Premiership, just managing to stay ahead of Harlequins on the final day of the regular season.
And though the play-off semi-final at Sandy Park didn’t quite go to plan, Saints could be pleased with their hard work and how they stood when the curtain came down on the 2018/19 campaign.
But with success comes expectation.
The two are tricky bedfellows as expectation can quickly have an impact on success.
Pressure comes from all around and teams can start to struggle, just as Saints did after topping the regular-season table in 2015.
And with the club now back at Europe’s top table, next season will have far less breathing space than the previous campaign.
Resting and rotating will be tough with meaningful match after meaningful match coming thick and fast.
And that is something that Saints, who will take on Leinster, Lyon and Benetton in the Champions Cup, must deal with if they are to achieve their new, loftier aims at home and abroad.
“I’m sure there will be more expectation, and there’s more expectation internally,” said Saints back row forward Tom Wood.
“It’s a good thing but we’re going to have to take into account the additional challenge of being in the Champions Cup.
“It’s a big swing from being able to rest players against Timisoara to playing Leinster away. There’s a big difference there.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for Chris and the coaches to manage the squad and hopefully we can be fortunate with injuries and things. That would be a big help.
“Every team is due their series of injuries.
“From an expectation point of view we were obviously given some grace with it being a transitional season and we perhaps won’t be granted that this year.
“More will be expected of us, no one will be taking us lightly with us having reached the semi-finals so we’ll just have to live up to that.”
Wood signed a new deal at Saints last season and enjoyed a strong finish to the campaign, even though he didn’t get to play as much of a part in the closing stages as he’d have liked.
“Once we got some momentum, got some wins under our belt and the young lads coming through got some confidence we were really flying and we had a great finish to the season,” said the 32-year-old.
“For me personally, I had a good spell just after Christmas when we won the PRC.
“I felt I was going well and if I’m honest I was pretty disappointed to miss out on the last couple of games where I found myself on the bench only really having a couple of cameos.
“The coaches picked what they felt was the best team on the day and I was disapppointed, more so for the team because I felt we had it in us to win.”
There was a time last summer when Wood was worried he wouldn’t be able to play again, as he was unable to walk due to a problematic pelvic problem.
But he eventually overcame it and managed to make 24 appearances in 2018/19.
“I’ve kind of put it (the injury problem) behind me,” said Wood, who has played 190 times for Saints since joining the club from Worcester Warriors during the summer of 2010.
“I am grateful and I am always grateful for the opportunity to play.
“There were some dark days when I potentially might not have made it back, but it’s not something that’s frequently on my mind.
“I just do what I’ve always done, which is turn up to training, compete hard, give it everything and for as long as I’m able to do that I will do it.
“I feel like I’ve still got a lot to offer. I feel I’m still training well and performing and I’ve got plenty to give to the team. As long as that’s true, I hope to stick around.”