Wood set for next challenge in 'extra special' season at Saints

​While some may see a testimonial season as a time when a player begins to wind down, it has been the complete opposite for Saints flanker Tom Wood.

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 17th January 2020, 7:00 am
Tom Wood
Tom Wood

Instead, the 33-year-old is playing as big a part as ever in the first team at Franklin's Gardens while balancing on-field action with raising money for the Rugby Players' Association and the Saints Foundation.

Wood is in the form of his life for Saints, being given the odd welcome break by boss Chris Boyd in between some huge shifts in the black, green and gold.

And he is hugely grateful not only for the support of the club's coaches and players but also the supporters who are backing his testimonial year to the hilt.

"I've always felt a deep connection to the club and a huge amount of pride and privilege to play here," said Wood, who moved to Saints from Worcester Warriors in 2010.

"The 10 years have flown by and to be able to reflect on that and the weight of support from the fans and my committee, it does make you feel incredibly humbled and appreciative.

"You're a part of something that's bigger than you and it's nice that people are willing to do that in my name and on behalf of the charities.

"It just makes this year extra special for me."

Wood was given last weekend off, having earned a rest.

But he was still at the Gardens to watch his team-mates in action against Benetton, while also meeting fans during a signing session in the Rodber Suite.

This weekend, though, it's back to the day job as Wood gears up for a huge game in France.

Saints really need to win at Lyon on Saturday afternoon if they are to secure a Champions Cup quarter-final spot.

And Wood said: "I'm absolutely buzzing to get back out there.

"I think it was a good one for me to miss last weekend!

"A lot has been made of my own form but I think it's a reflection of how the team is playing.

"When the team is organised and playing well, it allows the likes of me to be a positive influence and do the right stuff.

"I can stand out a bit more because I get the ball in the wide channel and have a few more runs and touches of the ball.

"You get to have a better impact when the team is playing well.

"When you're chasing shadows and the team isn't functioning quite so well, you end up chasing lost causes and not standing out in your best light.

"I'm fit and well, I'm enjoying it and it's just a great place to be with all the young lads who have come through and all the coaches.

"I'm enjoying my rugby as much as I ever have."

Wood and Alex Waller are the only remaining members of the last Saints side to win in France.

That victory came in January 2011 when a team managed by Jim Mallinder won 23-12 at Castres in the Heineken Cup pool stages.

And though Saints have lost their past 11 games in France, Wood said: "I've never gone there feeling like we're going to be overwhelmed.

"Clermont has always been an exciting trip and although we haven't got the results, we've had some epic battles and given a good account of ourselves.

"We've played some good stuff and there was a game last year where we scored 40 points.

"It was a ridiculous scoreline and we proved in that game we could score points at will against a very good side away from home when we get things right.

"We'll be confident because I've never gone there feeling like there's no way we can win there.

"I remember the 2010/11 season when we went to the final beating the likes of Castres and that's more in the forefront of my mind despite having nine years of losing ever since."

This weekend's opposition are already out of the competition following their defeat at Leinster last weekend.

But Wood knows exactly how tough Lyon will be to beat, having faced them in Saints' 25-14 win at Franklin's Gardens in November.

"We did really well at home against Lyon, we got the result we needed and it felt quite convincing on the day," he said.

"But being a part of that game, I know that if we let them in for a second we'll be in trouble.

"We did quite a good job of nullifying the likes of Carl Fearns and Liam Gill over the ball, but their threat was ever-present.

"If we'd allowed them to get any momentum, it would have been a different outcome.

"We need to make sure we reproduce those levels of breakdown intensity, of defensive work and obviously ball security in attack."