Wednesday 21 March 2018

Wood targets high-flying Ulster after helping to shoot down All Blacks

David Kelly

David Kelly

Fresh from his dominant display in helping England destroy the seemingly unstoppable march of the All Blacks through the northern hemisphere, Northampton's teak-tough flanker Tom Wood is now gunning for another enduring unbeaten record.

Thankfully, not literally.

For, as Heineken Cup finalists Ulster prepare to place their unbeaten run this season on the line in the formidable Franklin's Gardens home of the Saints tomorrow night, Roger Wilson indicates an unexpectedly fiery side to Wood's character.

"With Woody, what you see is what you get," says No 8 Wilson, who rejoined his home province of Ulster last summer after a four-year stint with the English Premiership outfit, during which he featured in the remarkable 2010 final against Leinster.

"He's a bit of a kamikaze kind of guy on and off the pitch. He likes his hunting. He has a vast array of arms and artillery.

"He has night vision goggles, bows and arrows, the whole lot. He's a bit of a nutcase off the field. And he brings that attitude on to the field as well."

Faced with such a barrage of ammunition, Ulster are mindful of the challenge that faces them from a predictably forward-oriented, if highly effective, one-dimensional unit.

Not that Wood (below) is too enamoured with his former colleague's attempts to frame his character.


"Ah, he's exaggerating a little bit!" laughs the 26-year-old. "That's the reputation I have. I'm into my rifles and ballistics. I like archery and hunting but all the lads are used to it at this stage.

"It's something I did when I was injured in particular, it takes my mind off things. It's normally difficult to find time to do it when you're involved in the cut and thrust of week in, week out rugby."

Wood, who at one stage last season feared for his career after sustaining a toe injury that baffled many medics, was so entranced by his new-found hobby that he even sought to investigate the inner workings of his varied firearms.

"As much as pulling the trigger, I'm interested in the build-up to the whole thing on a technical level, how ballistics work, the mechanics of how the weapons work, that sort of thing," he confides.

"It's very much a contrast from rugby and it's difficult to find something that can make you escape from rugby."

Coursing opposition out-halves rather than deer has thankfully been to the forefront of his mind since recuperating from the horrific injury that ruled him out of both last year's Six Nations and his club's European slump.

Having also missed the astonishing second-half implosion in the 2011 final against Leinster in Murrayfield, Wood was on the field as Ronan O'Gara slotted a famous drop goal six months later which instigated the Saints' expulsion from Europe at the pool stages.

He would miss the return game but by then his side's European exit had been confirmed. It is fair to say that the Heineken Cup has not bestowed much in the way of endearment to Wood thus far.


"That Thomond Park experience is as heartbreaking as I've ever felt on a rugby pitch," he confesses. "We really felt like we'd given a good account of ourselves and had won the game. We missed a couple of opportunities that really went against us.

"We failed to gather a ball with the tryline at our mercy. We fumbled a couple of high balls and allowed them back into the game.

"Then obviously we had all those phases at the end where we thought we were defending it quite well but they just managed to keep hold of the ball. It broke our hearts, that last kick.

"It was pretty tough to take. And it affected us for the rest of the season really. It took so much out of us. We had international call-ups and injuries as well.

"We felt really hard done by and it followed on to the next week when we lost here to Scarlets. So we really aim to put all that right this season."

Ulster will sternly challenge that mettle but Wood remains utterly n his side's ability, particularly if they can transfer the energy that enveloped his team-mates in Twickenham last weekend.

"It's a must-win for us this weekend," he insists knowingly. "We respect their run of form, they're a passionate team with a very strong squad. But anything other than a Northampton win would be unacceptable."

Irish Independent

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