'England must take All Blacks off a pedestal'
Wood insists side can compete with world's best
ENGLAND flanker Tom Wood has issued a rousing call to arms in the build-up to Saturday's showdown with New Zealand, urging the side to believe that they can compete on an equal footing with the world champions and not "to declare a national holiday every time England beat the All Blacks".
Wood believes that a significant factor in England's unexpected 38-21 triumph over the world's No 1 ranked team last year was their determination to play the man and not the shirt and he believes that Stuart Lancaster's side can maintain their winning run after victories against Australia and Argentina in the past fortnight.
"Everyone puts New Zealand on a pedestal," said Wood, who took himself off to that country in his late teens, meeting his future wife as well as seeing the hold rugby has on the people. "A lot of teams are beaten before they go into the game because they expect the All Blacks to win.
"That is what we got right last year and what we have got to recreate this year. Having lived there and played against some of those characters, it does demystify them. We are not going to get caught up in the aura of the All Blacks. We are going to treat them like anybody else. They are a very good side. But that is all they are. I think they will have more respect for us having done what we did last year."
Wood stressed that England needed to put together a complete performance and to improve on the disjointed effort that saw them beat Argentina 31-12 on Saturday, their ninth victory in 10 matches.
England have been given an extra 24 hours to recharge and will gather again today at their Pennyhill Park training base in Surrey to prepare for their last match of the QBE International series.
The team will not be announced until Thursday but there is serious doubt whether Christian Wade, the exciting wing who would have started against the Pumas but for a tight hamstring, will be available.
Marland Yarde, another absentee, is expected to be fit, as is Ben Youngs, the Leicester scrum-half who was a late withdrawal. Mako Vunipola, the loosehead prop, is not expected to be fit and Matt Mullan from Wasps has been called up as cover.
Wood is well aware that the team chosen to take on New Zealand in the prestige fixture of the autumn can expect a backlash from the All Blacks – or as the England hooker Dylan Harley put it yesterday: "They're a proud nation and a proud team and will be looking for payback."
The loss to England is their only reverse in 32 matches since the 2011 Rugby World Cup and they travel to Twickenham fresh from a 26-19 victory in France, which took their unbeaten run to 12 matches.
The Northampton blindside, however, insisted that England had to adopt the same mentality that served them so well last year, even if that was born of desperation after defeats by Australia and South Africa.
"When you have had a few wins, feel on top of the world, it is very easy to lose that edge, lose that bit of concentration," he said. "The All Blacks coming to Twickenham – we are under no illusions what that means. We are going to have to be absolutely full on.
"We want to get to the position where we don't declare national holidays every time we beat the All Blacks. We want it to be a regular occurrence.
"We want to be considered their equals or better." Wood knows that is not the case at the moment.
England's victory over New Zealand started a sequence of six successive victories at Twickenham, their best run in a decade. Yet the mood is muted as the acid test looms, the players themselves all too aware that they have only managed 40 minutes of decent rugby in each of the wins over Australia and Argentina.
"There is no doubt we are not going to beat the All Blacks with a 40-minute performance," Wood said.
"We have got to apply all of our nous, all of our physical energy just to be in with a chance. But we know when we are at our best, when we get it right, we can compete with these teams. That is the mindset we will be taking out.
"You have got to hand it to the All Blacks. They have got threats all over the park, they have got strength in depth. I think we are getting there. I am not going to make wild statements about us being better than the All Blacks, but I definitely think we are developing something with a bit more substance and sustainability."
A similarly upbeat assessment came from Billy Twelvetrees, who insisted that England could "blow anyone off the park" if they maintained the momentum they generated during the first-half against Argentina, which included a morale-boosting try for the Gloucester centre.
Twelvetrees delivered a resurgent performance after being heavily criticised for his display against Australia, and looks certain to be retained along with Saracens centre Joel Tomkins in the England midfield on Saturday.
"The players we have in the squad, let alone the starting XV, are class and can all come in and do a job," Twelvetrees said. "We played at such a tempo in the first half on Saturday we ran them ragged a bit. If we keep that shape and tempo together, we can blow anyone off the park." (© Daily Telegraph, London)