The Tom Wood Interview: Part Two
Tom Wood has been around the Franklin’s Gardens block enough times to know where Saints stand heading into next season.
And the flanker, who will be involved in his 11th black, green and gold campaign next time around, is very clear about what his club need to do to bridge the gap to the top teams.
“Thankfully we’re starting to learn some lessons that have taken a little too long to learn,” said Wood, whose Saints contract now runs until next summer.
“Our biggest issue is consistency. How can a team that plays the way we did with 14 men against Exeter for 40 minutes also play as badly as we did against Gloucester?
“How can a team that pushes Exeter off their own ball get pushed off by Newcastle? That basically comes down to concentration and consistency.
“We’ve got to basically set better minimum standards for ourselves.
“Rugby is an emotional game and you can occasionally peak and get the best out of yourself on the day, but over the course of 11 months you can’t do that week in week out.
“You can’t rely on emotion every week, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your foundations and your minimum standards of your game in order no matter what.
“I don’t want to make excuses and act like we’re in this transitional period because we want to win things, and win them now.
“We feel we’ve got the personnel and we feel like we’ve underachieved this year.
“I don’t want to speak for the coaches and the team as a whole but fifth place is barely par and we’re disappointed with that.
“Credit to the four teams that are in the top four because they really deserve it and have really played well at the back end of the season.
“Sale and Quins have really had a good run of form but when we look back at our season and some of the very narrow misses - Bristol home and away, Bath at home, the two games we really didn’t show up for, Quins and Gloucester - we’d like to think we’ll really be pushing for that top four and have the potential to do it.
“Over the summer it’s going to be about consolidating a little bit, making sure we get those inconsistencies out of our game and that some of these young players who are really establishing themselves in the team take ownership of the team and become the senior players and the leaders within it.”
Wood has been a Saints leader for some time now, having made the move to Northampton from Worcester Warriors in the summer of 2010.
He has racked up 228 appearances to date and continues to produce huge 80-minute performances week on week.
So just how does he do it?
“That’s just how I’m programmed - I don’t know any different,” Wood said.
“I’m not your impact player off the bench, I’m not your fast twitch game-changing moments.
“I’m in the game for 80 minutes, in the fight from start to finish, slug it out and kind of a numbers man, seeing how many tackles I can make, how many carries, how many rucks I can hit rather than those box office moments.
“I pride myself on resilience, endurace and attritional rugby. That’s what I love and that’s what I’m good at.
“That’s what I think I can offer this team that has got lots of the other stuff I mentioned and that perhaps isn’t me because the young lads coming through have got a lot of flair, a lot of talent, a lot of box office and I’m just trying to be the foundation they can play around.”
Wood doesn’t need to stand out in a box office kind of way.
He has already established himself as a club legend and when it was uncertain whether he would stay on at Saints towards the end of last season, there was an outpouring of support.
Some fans even jokingly suggested Saints should hand him a new 10-year deal, considering just how important he still is to the team and the club.
“It’s humbling and it’s reassuring to know that support is there,” Wood said.
“If I was reading a load of comments saying he looks over the hill, he’s not the player he was, he looks past it, he’s a yard off the pace or he’s slowing down or we need to move him on, it would probably be the final nail in the coffin for me.
“When people are saying all those good things, it’s great and it’s easy to think that it’s a foregone conclusion that you should carry on, but the moment that’s not true - and that could happen mid-season - all of a sudden you’re retiring a bit burnt out and you have that little dent in your reputation as you part.
“It’s my intention to finish on a real high and to go out with people still saying those things.
“I’m really proud that they are and I’ve been able to deliver that this year and I feel good and I’m enjoying it still so it’s very hard to retire on that basis.
“I don’t want it to get to the stage where I have to retire - I want to do it on my terms and hopefully I’ll still be in one piece.
“It’s about getting that timing right because there’s a long life after rugby and lots of work to do outside of the game and a career and everything to establish after my playing days.
“I want to do it not completely frazzled, with some energy and a with a healthy body not after a rugby career that went on a year or two too long.”