Tuesday afternoon saw me head up to Mile End Stadium to be put through my paces by Gatorade UK, at the launch of their new “G Series Pro” drinks range. The three drink set, labelled “Prime, Perform, Recover” did actually work in helping to improve my recovery and performance, given that by the time I’d got back home my legs were still working rather than collapsing in some heap when attempting to get off the tube.
The “prize” in a sense after a 40 minute intense bike session to trial how much myself and fellow journalists and participants sweated, was the chance for a mini training session with Northampton Saints players Tom May, Roger Wilson, and Tom Wood. Some passing and kicking drills plus a bit of touch later, it was time to ask them some questions.
Given his experience of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, and the high regard in which he is held by both fans and journalists up and down the country, it was great to hear Wood’s thoughts on both where Northampton and England were heading. As a character, his honesty and humour is refreshing. At just 24, he was already racked up nearly five seasons in the Aviva Premiership with Worcester and Northampton, making his England debut last Spring in the Six Nations to great praise from pundits and supporters filling in for Lewis Moody, and was also named Premiership Player of the Year for 2010/2011. This rise however stuttered at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, an experience Wood describes as frustrating.
“We underachieved, which took the shine off being in New Zealand for such a great tournament, and that’s hard to take. I was there on the Queenstown night and went bungee-jumping on the day off, and to be honest the less said about it the better. It escalated into a nightmare and we’ll look back on it with some regret.”
To go from the frustration of New Zealand to being touted as the next England captain is quite a shift in fortune, but Wood is being objective about the praise he’s received rather than letting it go to this head. “I’m flattered, but we’re a long way away from picking a captain with all the reviews taking place. I wasn’t even on the bench for the last England match against France, so it seems like a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. My feet are firmly on the ground though and I just want to get fit again first. If it ever did come around, I’d be the proudest man in the world, so I’m not turning my nose up at it whatsoever. My aims are just more immediate at the moment.”
Those aims include trying to get back to full fitness following the stop-start nature of training at the Rugby World Cup, plus a lack of game time. Wood only played two matches in New Zealand, against Georgia and Romania, and stated that a lack of pre-season with Northampton due to being away with the national side, had affected his fitness to the point where after his first game back for Saints against the Ospreys, he was exhausted.
“I played terribly in that first game back. It wasn’t a case of not being up for it, I just couldn’t get going, and the next day it took me ages to recover. A combination of not playing and the jetlag from New Zealand just took it out of me and I was absolutely in pieces the next day! Therefore, the more I can play and train consistently with Saints, where the fitness work is intense, the better shape I’ll be in.”
Before England next take the field however, there is an all important Heineken Cup campaign to get underway, starting for Northampton with one of the hardest fixtures around, away at Munster. Last year’s anguish was clear on the faces of coach Jim Mallinder and Dylan Hartley the day before at the Heineken Cup launch for this season, and for Wood it’s no different, although he has extra reason to be hungrier this year.
“I missed the business end of it last year (due to a broken leg in the quarter-final), which was gutting. People tell me ‘You’re young” but Heineken Cup finals don’t come round that often. It’s a great way to start over at Munster, where there’s a fantastic atmosphere. Many of the boys played there a couple of years ago and said the crowd were unbelievable so I want to experience that.” Starting with Munster the weekend after next, it could be the first of many big occasions for the impressive young Saint.
by Ben Coles
Tom May, Tom Wood and Roger Wilson were speaking at the launch of the Gatorade G Series Pro range, a new series of sports performance products that fuel athletes before, during and after workout, practice or competition. Available to buy in stores from November 20th, follow @GatoradeUK for more information.