Wood relishing Twickenham haka
England flanker Tom Wood will be as fired up as any All Black when New Zealand line up in formation to perform the haka at Twickenham on Saturday.
England have no special plans to respond. They will stand shoulder to shoulder on their 10-metre line and Wood will be transported back to his days in Oamaru, North Otago. Memories of the 'Blood Match' between Waitaki Boys' High School and St Kevin's will come flooding back. The hairs will stand up on the back of his neck.
Wood was taught how to lead the haka during his time coaching at Waitaki Boys'. He understands its significance and is relishing the moment the 'Ka Mate' cry goes up or the 'Kapa O Pango' throat-slitting challenge is laid down. "I have never faced the haka before. I am really looking forward to that. It will get me as up for the game as it will them," Wood said.
"It is a really big part of the New Zealand game. As a rugby player it means a lot, it provides that little bit extra to a big occasion like this. It will have just as positive an effect on me as them."
Wood credits the season he spent playing for North Otago in 2006 as a key part of his rugby education. He left home having grown stale in the Worcester academy but returned to England reinvigorated.
"To a certain extent, being part of an academy becomes the norm and being a professional rugby player is about prestige," Wood said.
"Rugby out there was a real passion. People want to give you feedback on your own game throughout the small town. The woman serving the pies was pretty critical about my technique over the breakdown - she said I needed to be six inches lower and get past the ball!
"I came on leaps and bounds out there. I felt I went out there a boy from the academy and came back ready to play in the first team."
Wood will need to take the pie-lady's breakdown advice on board this weekend when he comes up against the New Zealand back row of Richie McCaw, Liam Messam and Kieran Read. Wood accepts their quality but he refuses to buy into their aura.
"They are human, they are beatable," Wood said. "They are a very good team but they are not the all-singing, all-dancing team they are made out to be at times. They thrive on loose ball and counter-attack. They get ahead, they force you to chase the game and then when you make mistakes they capitalise."