Saints legend Wood can’t wait to play one last game at the Gardens

This time, he’s not wearing the Saints badge, instead opting for a green hoodie and cap.

He hasn’t come straight from training, he’s come from a hard day’s work, as he comes back to the club where he truly made his name to look forward to his return to action this week.

Wood will captain the Barbarians team that takes on Saints in an historic match at the Gardens on Saturday.

Tom Wood lifted the Premiership trophy for Saints in 2014

The fixture is being used to plug the gap left by the cancellation of the Gallagher Premiership clash with Worcester Warriors.

And it is something Wood, Luther Burrell, who will also be starting for the Barbarians, Saints and all of their supporters are really looking forward to.

“It will be great,” Wood said.

“There’s some interesting characters in the Barbarians squad, most of which I haven’t played with before.

“Sharing a pitch with Luth (Burrell) again will be brilliant because it’s been a while but some of our best days in Saints and England shirts were alongside each other so that will be great.”

Wood and Burrell etched their names in the history of Saints as they helped the club to claim a memorable Premiership and European Challenge Cup double during the sensational 2013/14 season.

But now they will be on the opposite side.

So will it feel strange for Wood, who racked up a total of 240 Saints appearances after joining the club from Worcester Warriors in 2010, to be taking on his old team and many of his mates?

“I don’t know if it will or not,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to playing against some of my old mates and I’m glad Alex Waller, Mike Haywood and likes are out there.

“I’m happy to see guys I’ve spent most of my time alongside out there and have one last shot at those guys.”

While many of the Barbarians players are still in the rugby mix, Wood has been out of the game since retiring during the summer.

And the 36-year-old, who saw last season cut short in February due to a shoulder injury, is looking forward to seeing how his body handles the return to action.

“If climbing trees and working on my truck is preparation for a full-blooded match then I guess I’m somewhat prepared,” Wood said.

“I haven’t done a lot of rugby training, I haven’t touched a rugby ball much and I haven’t been doing the familiar shuttle runs, mauling sessions and tackle technique that I’m used to so it will be interesting to see how much being engrained in a lifetime of rugby gets me through after five or six months of doing very little.

“I’m not fat and out of shape, I’m doing physical work but I’m not hitting scrums and mauls day in day out so it will be a shock to the system I’m sure.

“I’m looking forward to it and it’s a good opportunity for me.

“I had a good send-off here, the club did right by me and put on a bit of a show and we had a good celebration on the last day (when Saints hosted Newcastle Falcons in June), but unfortunately I wasn’t on the pitch, I didn’t have my boots on so that was probably the one disappointing element of my last week at Saints and in professional rugby that I didn’t get to run around the pitch because I was still carrying that shoulder injury.

“It’s nice that, albeit on the opposition team, I get to run out here in front of the fans again and enjoy this place one last time.”

Though Wood has been working hard since retiring, he does admit his body feels fresher now than when he was playing.

He said: “I have been working hard, I’ve had some exhausting days and some long days on the tools where I think I probably would rather be back here hitting scrums and tackles.

“But in terms of contact I haven’t been knocked around and I don’t wake up every Sunday morning with my ears bleeding and peel myself out of bed, come down the stairs backwards or sideways, trying to hang on to the bannister.

“I feel a bit fresher in terms of the bumps and bruises than I have for a long time.”

Some retired players struggle to cope with life out of the game, but that is not something Wood has endured.

He continues to coach at youth level as his son plays for Bugbrooke, and he is extremely busy with his woodwork business, tree surgery and truck repairing.

“In some ways, not on the whole, I haven’t really (missed playing),” Wood said.

“I feel like I timed it right and it was my time to move on.

“I had lots of stuff going on outside of rugby and I haven’t had time to sit down and dwell on anything or be twidling my thumbs wishing I was here.

“I’ve always been busy and had the next project to get stuck into.

“Having said that, I haven’t walked away and forgotten about rugby – I’m still connected to the club, I’ve still had a few roles to play on matchdays, I’ve still been here supporting the boys because my old team-mates and my business partner )Alex Waller) are all still here.

“I’m still actively involved and I’ve come down to watch the games and the fireworks go off, the music starts and the boys run out for kick-off and it gets the blood pumping still.

“There’s a big part of me that thinks ‘I could still be out there, and I probably should be’ but that’s about as fleeting as it gets.

“I’ve also sat in the Crooked Hooker with the boys on a Tuesday, which is their big day usually when they’re doing double rugby sessions, heavy lifts and lots of meetings, and I hear them all moaning about how long their day is. On those days, I’m glad I’m on this side of the fence.”

Wood played for the Barbarians in Spain back in June, slotting kicks at goal with ease during that match.

So has he been practicing his kicking ahead of this week’s clash?

“I haven’t,” he said, smiling. “You don’t have to practice, practicing isn’t what I’m about.

“I just turn up and put it through the posts.

“Once you’ve got it, you don’t lose it.

“You just turn up and smash it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button