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England prepare for Welsh exam

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Tom Fordyce | 17:29 UK time, Wednesday, 2 February 2011

"A lot of labouring, a lot of hard work like chopping wood and fetching and carrying."
England's new cap Tom Wood was explaining how he earned a crust during his spell living in New Zealand, but he may as well have been predicting the job he'll have to do in Cardiff this Friday night.

With two days to go until the opening salvo in this season's Six Nations, England have unveiled their troops. At the head of the charge will be new skipper Mike Tindall, on the flank the unheralded Wood.

The 24-year-old new boy might be advised not to dwell too much on the experience of the last England player to make his international debut in the fixture. At 6' 5" and over 16 stone he's unlikely to suffer the same physical fate as Mathew Tait did at Gavin Henson's hands back in 2005, but the atmosphere and intensity will provide a mental barrage all of their own.

Manager Martin Johnson is convinced he can come through unscathed. "Sometimes a young player comes in and they don't realise how good a player they are," he said at England's training headquarters in Bagshot on Wednesday. "He's one of those players who impresses you with everything he does. He has spoken well when he has had to, and his understanding and knowledge of the game is very good."

Perhaps Johnson sees something of himself in Wood. If he does, it's not entirely accidental. Wood decided to swap the Worcester academy for a less orthodox schooling in that rugby-obsessed corner of the world in part because a young Johnson had done exactly the same.

Tom Wood poses at England's Bagshot training base ahead of his debut against Wales

Will Wood cut Wales down to size in Cardiff on Friday? Picture: PA

"I'd read his book, and I was aware of a few things he'd done over there," says Wood, selected at blind-side with James Haskell at seven and Nick Easter at eight. "Obviously it worked well for him, so I thought, why not?

"I wanted to break the mould a bit from just coming through the academy. I felt like I was progressing well, but I wanted to be in the real world and play some rugby. I found it a real good experience in life as well as rugby; I went out a boy and came back a man.

"I was Tom the Pom from the start, and the abuse was coming in from all angles. I worked full time and managed my training around that, and came on leaps and bounds.

"I think sometimes over here in academies it becomes the norm to become a professional rugby player, and I wanted to go back to the old days - there were guys out there who would work all day on the farm and then run over hot coals to make the Tuesday night training session. I wanted to get that back in my game: that real desire to play rugby."

Hot coals might be preferable to the scorching reception Wood and his team-mates can expect on Friday night.

Over a third of the starting England XV have never experienced a Six Nations match in the Millennium Stadium. For some that might not feel like a problem - when you've played Australia down under, as Ben Youngs and Shontayne Hape have, or faced France in a Grand Slam denouement like Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Dan Cole, you have come through two of rugby's tougher tests.

But there is intimidation and noise, and then there is Cardiff when England come to town. The clash two years ago was the most violent thing Valentine's Day has seen since Capone's goons put their tommy-guns away, a battering, brutal collision that rattled the teeth even of those in the upper tier of the North Stand.

Johnson was trying to keep it simple on Wednesday. "When you walk out at the Millennium Stadium in front of a big crowd, you're still playing on a rectangle of grass." He also insisted that Tindall would have been his skipper regardless of who or where England were playing.

It's probably true. It's also entirely apposite that a player as grizzled and obdurate as Tindall will be at the forefront on such an occasion.

The old stager, who shared the podium in Sydney with Johnson after the World Cup win in 2003, is the most experienced man left standing in the England ranks. Friday will bring his 67th cap. At the same time this will be only the second time he has started a Six Nations match in Cardiff in his 11-year international career, having missed out in '03, '05 and '07 and only come on as a replacement in '01.

Some critics don't think he has the pace any more to cut it at the very top level. Others would say he never did, and ask how much harm that ever did him.

Johnson has always said that he picks the team first and captain second. In that case, Tindall's detractors will have to live with the sight of him in an England jersey for a while yet.

Mike Tindall and Jonny Wilkinson train with England ahead of their match with Wales

England will look to the experience of Tindall and Wilkinson, who is on the bench, in Cardiff. Picture: AP

Dogged by almost as many injuries since becoming a world champion as his team-mate Jonny Wilkinson, Tindall is likely to relish every bone-crunching collision. Since Wales have picked a 33-stone combination of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies to run straight at him and Hape, it's probably just as well.

His connections to the Royal Family are well known, his marriage to Zara Phillips due to follow that of her cousin William. He may find this earlier engagement with the prints of Wales leaves a few more stud-marks.

If Tindall owes his promotion to the injury sustained by Lewis Moody, Johnson is not alone in having to make emergency repairs to his first-choice XV. The loss of Lions props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones is arguably a bigger loss to Warren Gatland and Wales than Moody, Tom Croft and Courtney Lawes to England.

Even then, and with Wales coming off the back of just two wins from 12 in 2010, it is still a mighty hard match to call, as close on paper as the respective head-to-head records between the two - England 54 wins, Wales 53.

Just as last year, when England took advantage of Alun Wyn Jones's yellow card to kick-start their Six Nations campaign with a 30-17 victory, the fact that such a big match comes so early could have a defining effect on the campaign.

Wales never regained the momentum lost by that defeat in the opener at Twickenham, just as their remarkable 26-19 win in south-west London back in 2008 launched them towards the Grand Slam. If they can make it four wins in a row over England at home, the despondency of autumn may yet give way to a winter of content. Should England secure their first win in Cardiff since 2003, the three matches they have at Twickenham to come will lead to whispers of a Grand Slam to match.

For now, it is a time for stout hearts and deep breaths. "I'm a little bit anxious, but I just want to get out there now," admitted Wood.

"Away in Wales, with the us against them feeling and the roof going over and the noise going up those extra few decibels... I'll just try to remember what has got me here, which is hard graft. I don't know any other way than to get stuck in."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Back row looks very good now, Haskell is an excellent player even if out of position and can guide Wood along with Easter if the need arises.
    Front row should walk over Wales', the loss of Jenkins is massive.

  • Comment number 2.

    I beleive the welsh boys have more than enough to match the english I will be looking for Jon Davies to step up and transfer his club form to the international stage and in a packed millenium stadium, with the noise of the crowd behind them to spur him and the team on i will be optimistic and say 25-22 to Wales, I for one cannot wait

  • Comment number 3.

    I can't believe that we have picked that plodder Haskell. What has Robshaw got to do? He is a much better blindside. Basically we have given the Welsh a huge lift. I fancy us to lose 25-15.

  • Comment number 4.

    Tom Wood is having an outstanding season, so it's no surprise to us Saints fans that he's in the England team.
    Now we just need Phil Dowson in as well, boot out Easter, and England would have a fantastic pack.

  • Comment number 5.

    People keep going on about Henson on Tait, he recieved man and ball, took the tackle and retained posesion. It was a big tackle but england recycled the ball and played on. Apart from that and a few 40m penalties henson has built a media image, Hook is a far more exciteing player!

  • Comment number 6.

    Some very interesting selections by Gatland. Playing Hook at 15 shows how highly regarded he is by the Welsh management although I'm sure he'll end up at either 10 or 12 at some stage of the match. The centre combination of Roberts/Jon Davies for Wales looks very exciting and could severely test Hape and Tindall but ONLY if the Welsh pack can win enough quality ball from the set piece. It will be interesting to see how Alain Rolland referees the scrummage, especially how he deals with Hartley's habit of popping up when put under pressure, although I expect it will be England's props who exert the pressure on their counterparts. Paul James is an able deputy for Gethin Jenkins but Adam Jones is a huge loss on the tighthead although I'm sure Mitchell will give it everything he's got against Sheridan. There's a huge amount of experience on both benches and substitutes could have a big bearing on the end result. This one's really too close to call and has all the makings of a cracker and I can't wait for the first whistle

  • Comment number 7.

    Never seen Wood play but he looks a bit skinny to me! That's alright for the lineout but that's not a 6's (or 8's) main job - hope he can impose himself at the advantage line in both attack and defence.

  • Comment number 8.

    A bit skinny????? hes not the broadest player ive seen but thats probably the fact he's 6ft 5.........he weighs over 16 stone and will still be a physical presence!!! as for startingtogobald......i would think robshaw isnt playing because they decided early on that haskell would be the 7 and therefore saw wood as a tastier prospect at 6.....i think after the world cup we may see the end of moody's international career and therefore see much more of robshaw.

  • Comment number 9.

    "The loss of Lions props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones is arguably a bigger loss to Warren Gatland and Wales than Moody, Tom Croft and Courtney Lawes to England."

    No, it really, really isn't.

    Wales will not be missing much without Jenkins, a non-scrummaging, non-carrying, showpony wannabe flanker, who missed 6 tackles in 2 games in the autumn.

  • Comment number 10.

    "He may find this earlier engagement with the prints of Wales leaves a few more stud-marks."

    I'm sure this was one of those "should I/shouldn't I?" moments, but you just couldn't resist, and rightly so... deliciously awful! Good article... I am stupidly excited about the match, if a little anxious about the loss of Lawes, Croft and Moody impacting on the pace that we managed in the Autumn.

    To Startingtogobald, Robshaw is a very good player, he will get his chance. Being captain of the Saxons is a pretty good indication of the management's view of him. What's more, I'm glad he's not playing on Friday night, having him and Wood in the backrow would leave us woefully inexperienced in a crucial unit and in huge game. Haskell won the man of the match award against Wales last year, scoring two tries (despite not showing that form for the rest of the tournament) so maybe he can do it again for us in Cardiff. I agree though that Robshaw will probably become a better player.

  • Comment number 11.

    Have to say the player I am looking forward to seeing most is Warburton. He has the potential to be one of the stars of the tournament. I am not a Welsh fan (I am Northern Irish) but having seen a fair bit of Heineken Cup and Magners Rugby he is developing at a good pace. Highly abrasive, excellent pincher and possessing not inconsiderable pace, I believe he is the most complete backrower on display. The best player in what is increasingly becoming easily the most important area of the game as when you look at all the teams in the competition, when talking about their best and most important players you invariably think quite quickly of at least one or two backrow members. Hence I feel Wales will just edge it on Friday. Of course this is simply an analysis of the actual talent in both teams, if we were considering the mental strength of the two it would be a very different situation, thus England are most than capable of quietening the Millenium

  • Comment number 12.

    kentba8790

    Agree with you. Henson took man and ball and wasn't even itially aware of Tait's angle. Henson hates tackling and his head up, hands outstretched approach to it smacks of school boys new to the game who think Rugby is for freaks.

    If you look at Henson's work rate in general it is pathetic. He does run good angles, has a good pass and a good hand off but he's a pathetic man who hates tackling, rucking and feels terrified if accidentally caught in a maul. Henson only wants people to adore him, he won't put in the work to make that happen. Toulon are fools, by the way.

    I for one wish he was playing so Tindall can bury him and show him up and Youngs can run rings around him.

  • Comment number 13.

    Erm, why won't they let me put spaces in between sentences?

  • Comment number 14.

    @ 5. kentba8790

    Exactly, spot on! Why that tackle constantly gets regurgitated is beyond me.

    Henson is a media machine first and foremost. And a rugby player second. He is easy fodder for lazy media to pander to the prawn brigade who lap him up. Thats not to say he isnt talanted, but he needs to prove it and stop dancing and tanning. Maybe him and Delon Armitage could swan off somewhere together and do rugby a favour, they could visit their friend Cipriani in Oz..

    I like what Wood has done regarding going to NZ. It shows there are more options out their for young players.

    'Mon the Brave!!

  • Comment number 15.

    Steve wrote: "Wales will not be missing much without Jenkins, a non-scrummaging, non-carrying, showpony wannabe flanker, who missed 6 tackles in 2 games in the autumn."

    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    Really can't agree with you there. I actually do think his form has dropped off a bit but he's still a great scrummager and in the loose he has good hands and an unexpected turn of pace. Being good in the loose doesn't make you a wannabe flanker - it's just another facet of his game. Top prop. Similary Adam Jones is underrated, and I really am worried that we'll get scrummaged out of the game.

    PLEASE can we sort our lineout out - I've got bored of seeing Rees launch the ball to anyone who is in a shirt not coloured red.

  • Comment number 16.

    Redbud

    Brilliant on all counts! The three of them are a menage of ego's and media courting. Can't stick that footballer image they've brought to the game.

    Agree on Wood. Showed balls and maturity by going to NZ, a tough and hard place to play even club rugby.

  • Comment number 17.

    "A bit skinny????? hes not the broadest player ive seen but thats probably the fact he's 6ft 5.........he weighs over 16 stone and will still be a physical presence!!!"

    Matty, the fact he is 6ft5 and only 16st is exactly what makes him skinny - he is NOT big for an international no6 (we've got a bigger 1st team winger down my local junior club, and no, he's not at all fat). Wood is another lean, athletic player like Croft, Palmer and Lawes - but after the last bullying up front by the beefy saffers, we need some more chunk!

  • Comment number 18.

    Building up to be a real cracker of a game this one. Both sides have injuries to vital players but this is where strength in depth comes into play. I think both teams will benefit from being able to blood players into a high tempo which can only be good practice for the world cup later in the year. Would love to think Wales will win but I'm not overly confident, discipline will be key to this one (no stupid trips please Mr Wyn Jones). Looking forward to the Youngs/Phillips match up, Phillips won't be happy that Youngs has been getting lots of praise recently (and well deserved too), so it should be quite fiery there, although Phillips has to catch him first!! The Welsh centre pairing of Davies/Roberts could potentially be a future Lions pairing, very little has been said outside of Wales of Jonathan Davies in the centre but he is deceptively quick and strong and has an eye for the try line.

    Could go either way but I'll stay loyal and predict a Welsh victory, 24-18. CAN'T WAIT

  • Comment number 19.

    Henson's tackle on Tait has got to be one of the most overrated moments in 6 Nations history. It should be clear to most people who play rugby that Henson isn't actually very good at tackling - he stands up when tackling and evidently doesn't enjoy contact very much, hence why most of his 'big' tackles are really shoulder-barges. His tackles on Tait were again rubbish, he seems almost as surprised as Tait at how easily he forces him back (one of the tackles very close to being a spear tackle btw) and Tait manages to get the ball back every time. They just show how out of his depth Tait was (physically, at least), not how superior Henson's contact ability was.

    Finding it most amusing that people are complaining about Wood being too athletic and lightweight! Pick a heavy, immobile back row and Johnson gets criticised for it, pick a mobile, lighter back row and Johnson gets criticised for it - can't win with some people! Wood is only marginally lighter than Croft (who is also an inch taller than Wood) and he worked out fairly well.

    Can't wait for the match on Friday. Going to put my neck on the line and say England by 10, let's hope for a great game to kick off the 6 Nations. England-Wales at Cardiff, one of the all-time classic matches.

  • Comment number 20.

    "Henson isn't actually very good at tackling - he stands up when tackling"

    Uninvent, this is actually what the rugby league boys are taught to do - and they aren't bad at it!

  • Comment number 21.

    Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones are a huge loss! For those questioning their scrummaging ability................remember the Lions tour, 1st test, when overated Vickery got destroyed and Jones and Jenkins more than held their own. And please no one reply and start harking on about it being Alun Wyn Jones' fault from 2nd row - he also played in the 2nd half of the first test.

    England will now have the upperhand in the scrum and I can see the game going away from Wales from penalties conceded (Paul James) in kickable range. If the lineout doesn't function I can't see Wales having a 1st phase platform to build on.

  • Comment number 22.

    @ellfromgavenny

    I completely agree with you - I think it's going to be tight all over the park but as an Englishman, I'm pretty worried about that Welsh centre partnership! We all know what Roberts can do, although he hasn't been firing on all cylinders lately, and I've known about JD for quite a while - brilliant player, and we need to have done our homework on him. Showed his class against Leicester, and as a Tigers fan I was pleased to see how we reacted in the 2nd half and put him under a lot of pressure...he's lethal with space!

    Like I said, it's pretty even all over the park (even the backrow - I believe Wood will be a revelation), but it just depends who gets the upper hand MORE in their area of strength (front row for England, centres for Wales). Too close to call.

  • Comment number 23.

    21. At 12:40pm on 03 Feb 2011, showpony wrote:
    Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones are a huge loss! For those questioning their scrummaging ability................remember the Lions tour, 1st test, when overated Vickery got destroyed and Jones and Jenkins more than held their own.

    ----

    three points:

    1.It's not fair to call vickery overrated. that match came right at the end of his international career. In his prime he was awesome.

    2. jones came on and strengthened the scrum, but it's always deceptive when front row players do that. remember the player coming on is fresh and against someone tired.

    3. I read somewhere that the referee has since apologised to vickery for unfairly giving some of the penalties against him.

  • Comment number 24.

    'Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones are a huge loss! For those questioning their scrummaging ability................remember the Lions tour, 1st test, when overated Vickery got destroyed and Jones and Jenkins more than held their own. And please no one reply and start harking on about it being Alun Wyn Jones' fault from 2nd row'

    And also remember the 3rd Lions test... No AWJ, no Mears, but Vickery and Sheridan were comfortably on top in the scrum. But scummaging involves more than just the props, and having Shaw and Rees instead of AWJ and Mears will have made a big impact. Which also explained why the Boks could march a maul 50 meters in the 2nd half of the 1st test and struggled to go forwards after that once the Lions picked a bigger, more powerful pack.

    James is a far better scrummager than Jenkins anyway, whose strength is his ability in the loose, not the set piece. Jones is a big loss for Wales, but in fairness considerably less of a loss than Moody, Croft, Lawes, and two of their probably replacements in Attwood and Fourie.

  • Comment number 25.

    kentba8790
    1Prop75
    Redbud
    Uninventivename

    Re - Henson's tackle - Yes Tait managed to retain possession but as anyone on this board, who have witnessed international rugby first hand, will know, a big tackle can change the game, get the crowd on their feet and demoralise the opposition.
    For all Henson's show pony, media celeb wanna be famous bore demeanour, that tackle had the desired effect. Good, bad, completed, incomplete, good or bad technique, those tackles can change a game.

  • Comment number 26.

    @20 naigib

    ... this aint rugby league...

  • Comment number 27.

    "... this aint rugby league..."

    Where the tackling is better!

  • Comment number 28.

    I personally feel, looking down the England team sheet, that there is too much bludgeon and not enough rapier. Because of this I fear most about the balance of the side. Wood and Haskell are both quality performers, indeed Wood has been outstanding, but I can't remember many occasions where playing two blind-sides has been effective. On the subject of the back-row, Nick Easter has never struck me as anything more than a good, honest club player. I have never witnessed the dynamism associated with a say, Heaslip or Harinordiquay. However, I do believe the cupboard to be alittle bare in this dept, as I can't think of abetter alternative, would not question Jonno's selection at 8. With Fourie injured, I thought Andy Saull may have considered selection to offer better balance.

    The same conundrum at 8 applies to fly half options, where there are no contenders who are capable of sprinkling a little fairy dust on proceedings. I see Flood as someone who just does the basics. He seems to be kicking well though, so should keep the scoreboard ticking. Hape/Tindall?? Dear oh dear. Again, both good honest performers, but top class? Looking through the list, the only players I would consider world class would be Sheridan, Youngs and Ashton, although Foden offers wonderful broken field running. I just hope it's enough to see England home. These occasions are so often dictated by who wins the battle in the back row, and the Wales combination looks to have a better look to it than England's.

    I still go for England...just !!

  • Comment number 29.

    "...Where the tackling is better!..."

    Maybe, but its a different game needing a different style. when you go down in league it restarts, when you go down in union you usually find yourself losing ball or at the bottom of a pile!

    Therefore as a tackler, you want the man down so you get the chance of turn over. You cant rip the ball out of someones hands if your arms are wrapped around them high and they haven't gone down.

  • Comment number 30.

    It's a slightly different discipline in both sports naigib and crazyjenkins.

    In League, the tackler can concentrate wholly on making a big hit which can sometimes give the appearance of a more destructive tackle.

    In Union, as a tackle is carried out, the tackler's mind is already on jumping to his feet and stealing the ball, therefore changing the whole dynamic of the tackle situation. To the uninitiated, this can appear to be a less destructive tackle, but is more suited to the nuances of that game.

  • Comment number 31.

    I like the pick of Wood because without Croft and Lawes England don't have a very dynamic pack and as they showed at times last year they can do great things when they play with pace.

    My concern for England is playing Tindall. Why not Flutey at 12 and Hape at 13? Tindall offers very little nowadays and defensively Flutey is a rock, as proved when he played for the Lions, and Tindall had some awful moments in the autumn. Easter will do as a captain for now! Also, why Banahan on the bench?

  • Comment number 32.

    I agree AndrewMellish - just would have liked a genuine 7 to play alongside Wood....maybe Andy Saull?

  • Comment number 33.

    As for the centres i am curious to see how hape and tindall get on..........a few slip ups in this six nations or an injury could see a call for the exciting manu tuilagi in time for the world cup!!!! does anyone think he can make it on the world stage????

  • Comment number 34.

    Moving on from the Henson/Tait tackle, who cares at this point. I'm tipping England on this one, but only just. The centre pairing of Tindal and Hape are not first class. (I'm being kind) It's difficult to see where the tries come from. The back 3 will need to run all kinds of angles, which they are of course more than capable of, to get England across the line. If Cueto and Ashton bring their games, then England can win, if not be prepared for 10 maybe 11 man game. I fear it might result in some stuff it up your jumper stuff. Johnston will want to keep it tight for the first twenty, I reckon England fancy that they can win the forward arm wrestle. I'm not holding my breath for an open dynamic game of rugby. Good luck Tom Wood. He really deserves his call up.

  • Comment number 35.

    Watch and Learn

    "as anyone on this board, who have witnessed international rugby first hand" - strange comment, what are you suggesting?.... ive seen a few, thanks.

    Basically your talking nonsense. One tackle doesnt win a game. For all the man has acheived in rugby you would think he had won the world cup and is a better player than Dan Carter and Lionel Messi, if you listened to the press and the BBC especially. All im asking for is a bit of perspective from the sports media. If you like to read about Henface then go and buy an OK magazine or whatever teen mag he is in latley.

    As someone on this board who has witnessed international rugby(as you put it), id rather read about rugby players than constantly hearing about a boy-band-wanna-be thats famous for doing what other rugby players do week in week out.

  • Comment number 36.

    I think this is going to be a great game. As long as Hartley can keep his mouth shut, and do his job. England should win. But if he starts getting wound up and frustrated, England need Thompson off the bench quick sharp. If the England pack get quick ball from rucks and mauls, and maintain good lineout, then they should win. If Wales get the same from their rucks etc. I think they will still struggle to get round the pace of our back line to score tries. Hook is not too much of a danger from full back, as he probably won't get much ball. Jones, although a great fly half, runs straight and doesn't create much space for his centres to come onto the ball. Roberts is the biggest danger to England, but Hape or Tindall are good enough to cope with his threat. I think we could see Hape have a great game tonight. He's got better every game he's played for England so far. His league experience and ability to offload out of the tackle, could be key for this game. If Foden, Cueto and Ashton are running good lines off Hape, Wales could be in real trouble.

  • Comment number 37.

    I wonder if Gatland's strategy of diverting attention away from the fact that young Mitchell is up against the experienced Sheridan will have its desired effect.

    The scrum will be the critical area (as usual) and Gatland knows this, I suspect England will have the edge. Nevertheless, if Hartley implodes under the psychological pressure and Wales win; surely, Gatland must take the credit?

    This will be a decisive moment in Gatland's reign as Welsh coach.

 

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