On Thursday Stuart Lancaster made one of his most challenging team selections since taking over the role of England head coach. The return of players from Northampton Saints and Saracens, combined with England’s admirable 20-15 defeat against New Zealand last week leaves Lancaster and his coaching staff with a number of selection dilemmas.
However one player that will slot straight back into the starting 15 will be Northampton’s Tom Wood.
Wood has had a fantastic season, playing every match for England in the Six Nations as well as winning the AVIVA Premiership and Amlin Cup with Northampton.
He will have watched last week’s match from the comfort of his home, but will be thrust into action from the off on Saturday. The reason why? Simple, Richie McCaw. The talismanic New Zealand skipper will be raring to go on Saturday after what was an underwhelming victory last weekend.
While Chris Robshaw had a good game last week, he is not made in the mould of a traditional open side flanker. That’s where Wood come in. The 27-year-old will be given the task of nullifying the great threat McCaw presents at the break down. A task easier said than done, and one many have failed in the past.
McCaw’s ability at the breakdown has seen him rise to become arguably the greatest flanker in the history of the game. The 33-year-old plays the game with ferocious intensity and his ability to lead his team is only matched by his incredible skillset.
Wood and his back row colleagues must ensure that McCaw can’t turn over England’s possession of the ball. When a field breaks up there is no team deadlier than the All Blacks and as we saw last week they only need one opportunity to put points on the board.
In matches of this calibre, fine margins separate winners from losers. Therefore discipline will play a large role in deciding the eventual winner of the series. Marland Yarde’s yellow card late in the first test opened gaps in England’s back line and it was inevitable that New Zealand’s try would come out wide where he should have been defending.
In this year’s Premiership Wood was only brandished one yellow card all season, a statistic that will only further endear him to the England coaching set up.
While Tom Wood and Richie McCaw will start on opposite sides of the scrum come Saturday, the battle between these two workhorses could greatly determine who walks away victorious in Dunedin.
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