The England flanker looks back on a memorable Six Nations win and an infamous defeat at the Millennium Stadium
It’s the type of occasion players relish. As England flanker Tom Wood says: “There’s that old rivalry. On the bus trip on the way in (to the stadium) people are hurling abuse at you, but you thrive on that. It’s what makes England v Wales games so special.
“And playing in the Millennium Stadium is one of the best atmospheres. With the roof on and the steep banking on the stands, it makes everything feel like it’s on top of you.”
England’s last two visits to Cardiff in the championship have resulted in very different outcomes – as Wood knows only too well. Back in 2011, with Martin Johnson as coach, England began their campaign with a 26-19 victory, Chris Ashton running in two tries under the Millennium lights on a Friday night. The fact it was Wood’s first Test for England made the win all the more memorable for the Northampton Saints stalwart.
“I was called up for the Six Nations as injury cover for Tom Croft and Lewis Moody,” recalls Wood, who is an injury doubt for this year’s Six Nations opener. “I thought I was probably on the fringes but I was just pleased to be part of the set-up. Then early in the first week – we had two weeks of training leading up to the game – I was called across the gym by Martin Johnson and he told me I was down to start.
“I was blown away – I lifted more in that gym session than I had for a while! I was buzzing and had two weeks to get my head around it. You could end up overthinking it, but I was calm and felt ready. I’d prepared well, the team made me feel comfortable and I had one of my better games. I was on the ball more often than I had been for Saints at that time and was heavily involved. It was a really good performance, personally and as a team.”
It was a different story in 2013. With Stuart Lancaster at the helm, they travelled across the Severn Bridge in the hope of securing a first Grand Slam in ten years but returned home chastened by a 30-3 defeat that handed Wales the Six Nations title.
This time it was a Wales winger, Alex Cuthbert, crossing for a brace of tries, and England could manage only a solitary penalty from Owen Farrell. For obvious reasons it’s not a match that generates the same fond memories as 2011 for Wood, although he does think it was more of a contest than the scoreline suggests.
“It was a tough day, but it was a lot closer than the scoreboard makes it looks,” he says. “For 40 to 50 minutes it was a real battle and for long periods of time we defended well. I remember Justin Tipuric running through and putting Alex Cuthbert in and only then did the game open up a bit more.”
England beat Wales 29-18 at Twickenham last year to secure their first Triple Crown since 2003 but it’s clear the squad would like to repeat the feat on Welsh soil, Wood saying: “It would be nice to do it on their patch and put that memory to bed.”