Tom Wood has opened up on England's injury hell
When the championship starts it will be short of almost 30 injured stars with Anthony Watson the latest to join the list; when it finishes in seven weeks’ time there is a fair chance that figure will have doubled.
A particular hot spot is the England back row.
As well as Billy Vunipola, man of the match in three games in last season’s championship, Chris Robshaw has gone too.
Add in the uncertainty over James Haskell’s fitness after more problems with the toe issue which sidelined him for six months and it will effectively be a second-choice unit which takes the field against France this weekend.
It is a crisis of sorts but not a drama. This is simply what has become the norm in a game which is in danger of eating itself.
“It feels like a different sport to when I started. I am very conscious of that. It’s always been a tough game and I’ve always played hard but the rate of collisions these days is unbelievable,” said England back row Tom Wood.
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“The thing with the back row is that rarely is everyone fit and available, so you get picked by default because it is so attritional. We’ve got loads of players in English rugby who could arguably play in the back row for England and basically the ones who are fit and in form at the time, get the shirt.
“It is amazing that Chris Robshaw has stayed fit for as long as he has; he has been available for just about every England game for a number of years and that in itself speaks volumes for his durability. Not many people have managed to do that. Billy Vunipola has done a pretty good job of that as well. But their absence gives a real opportunity to the guys who are left and we will look forward to that.”
The gladiators who will compete for the honour of their nations and our entertainment have come to view injury absences as inevitable. The war wounds are almost badges of honour.
“You want it to be fierce and competitive, you want that level of attrition. That’s part of what I pride myself on, that’s how I like it and why I got into the sport,” said Wood.
“But it is difficult to back it up week after week. Everyone’s due their injury and you have to take it as it comes. I am sure there’ll be some aching bones after I retire but I wouldn’t trade all of this for a comfortable elderly life with no aching joints.”
Saturday’s England-France game will be typically bruising, particularly so for Wood as it pits him against the rumbling Louis Picamoles, his Northampton back row colleague.
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“He is a great player and very unorthodox in his ball carrying. He has got such big legs you can’t get your arms around them at once. I’ve played against him a few times and have always had my hands full trying to deal with him,” said Wood.
“It seemed a strange decision to me for him to come from France to England. I didn’t quite understand it. But he said there was more emphasis on strength and conditioning, recovery and mobility over in England and he wanted to get more out of himself as a player.
“I thought he might have a stereotypical French attitude and be quite laid-back and blase about a few things but he totally committed and threw himself right into the thick of it, even to the drills I thought might not be his cup of tea. He proved me wrong and for the better as well.”
Axed for last season’s Six Nations, Wood made a successful return to England colours in the autumn. If he remains in one piece and in the side he will reach his half-century of caps on the final weekend of the championship in Ireland but he knows the nature of the game means it is unwise to plan too far ahead.
“I’ve always been very conscious that your time in the shirt may be shortlived. Injury and everything else can take it away in the blink of an eye,” he said.