The Gloucester prop is one home match away from equalling a Premiership record. Here are his fondest memories in front of the Shed Heads since starting out in 2003…
Nick Wood already has a couple of notable records to his name: the highest number of competitive first-team appearances for Gloucester (277) and the first man to reach a double century of Premiership games for the club (he’s on 203).
And there’s a more obscure record in the offing should the 33-year-old prop face Northampton this Saturday: he would equal the highest number of Premiership games played on one ground, drawing level with retired Tigers George Chuter and Geordan Murphy, who played 102 league games at Welford Road.
Regardless of whether or not he gets the nod this weekend, Wood has a heap of memories from his 101 Premiership outings at Kingsholm to date to reflect on. Here’s his top five…
Sat 11 Oct 2003
Gloucester 24 Leicester 3
Wood’s Premiership debut was a defeat at London Irish in round two of the 2003-04 season, and his home debut, a 30-7 defeat of Saracens, followed a week later.
But his first special memory came the day before England kicked off their victorious World Cup campaign in Australia – a thumping of the Tigers in which Wood played the full 80 minutes.
“It was a bright, sunny day and I was on a massive high, because it was my first start at Kingsholm and probably my first start in a Gloucester shirt,” says Wood. “As a kid you dream of having your name on the back of your shirt, not just a number.
“I managed to get my hands on the ball a bit and obviously Leicester are very strong opponents traditionally, so it was a memorable day.”
Wood, who made only one other Premiership start that season, had Chris Fortey and Andy Deacon beside him in the front row against a Tigers trio of Graham Rowntree, Chuter and Ricky Nebbett. And he may even have dished out a bit of abuse to Jim Hamilton, a future friend and team-mate, in the visitors’ second row. “He was a bit heavier in those days!”
Tries by Marcel Garvey and Robert Todd, plus the boot of Henry Paul, did for Leicester.
Sat 5 May 2007
Gloucester 50 Saracens 9
Nowadays it’s hard to imagine a full-strength Saracens getting crushed but that’s what happened in the 2007 Premiership semi-final as Gloucester cruised through to Twickenham with seven unanswered tries.
“It was a fantastic result and reflected our dominance that season. The league is a lot closer these days,” says Wood.
“I was up against Cobus Visagie, one of the toughest opponents I’ve ever faced, but we did okay and Pete Richards was tearing it up at scrum-half. It was a good day at the office, but unfortunately we lost Bucko (Peter Buxton) and Marco (Bortolami) before the final and went on to lose to Leicester.”
The Swindon-born loosehead recalls something else about that famous thrashing. “They were doing redevelopment work at Kingsholm and we had to change in Portakabins. One of the stands had been knocked down and there was an immense view of the cathedral; it was like a marriage of two great Gloucester landmarks, Kingsholm and the cathedral. The capacity was only 9,000 but even without the stand to help the noise reverberate, it was still a fantastic atmosphere.”
Richards, Luke Narraway, Anthony Allen, Andy Hazell, Mark Foster, Christian Califano all crossed, to go with a penalty try and 15 points from Willie Walker.
Sat 31 Jan 2009
Gloucester 23 London Irish 21
“There were two shocks in this game,” explains Wood. “First, that I won Man of the Match despite being a prop forward. Second, that I won it despite only playing 26 minutes. I don’t know what Stuart Barnes (Sky’s adjudicator) was drinking that day!”
Gloucester’s scrums were already solid but Wood’s entrance, where he locked horns with Richard Skuse, was the catalyst for a series of scrum penalties that helped the Cherry & Whites stage a stirring fightback.
“Sometimes you can play 80 minutes, the scrums go well and you make 20 tackles but you lose narrowly to a forward pass and you don’t get Man of the Match. Then you can get it for 26 minutes’ work – you should have seen Dean Ryan’s face when he found out!
“The only other Man of the Match award I got in 200-odd Premiership games was away to Bath in 2012 (when he scored Gloucester’s try in a 14-11 win).”
Gloucester trailed 18-3 but Olly Barkley’s six penalties kept them in the hunt and Iain Balshaw’s late try completed the rousing recovery act.
Sat 4 October 2014
Gloucester 33 Leicester 16
The context to this game was everything because, at the end of a good pre-season for Wood, he got an injury that prevented him playing – and hopefully impressing a brand-new coaching team.
“I had a bulging disc at the worst possible time. It was a completely new coaching team, apart from Trevor (Woodman), and everyone wanted to prove themselves,” he says.
“I fought hard to get fit, played a couple of United games, and then when Dan Murphy got injured, Trevor backed me. It was the first time I packed down with Richard Hibbard and John Afoa.”
Wood marked his first start under the new David Humphreys and Laurie Fisher-led coaching set-up in rare fashion – with one of his six Premiership tries.
“Tom Savage and I put pressure on Freddie Burns as he tried to clear. Tom charged it down and gave me a delayed offload, and I drove over with Graham Kitchener, his limbs all over the place, trying to stop me.
“The match was a dream start for me after everything that had happened. I had an opportunity and took it. I showed that, even at 31 as I was then, I was still able to do it.”
Jonny May and Charlie Sharples also dotted down as Gloucester turned round 30-9 to the good, a lead they never looked like relinquishing.
9 Jan 2015
Gloucester 24 Saracens 23
A game that had it all. It’s most remembered for the last-gasp winning penalty that James Hook landed from halfway, but for Wood there was more pain than elation following his removal from the fray on a stretcher.
“Everything happened,” he says. “Ben Morgan broke his leg, Charlie Sharples had a five-inch gash in his leg, and I had a neck injury.
“I’d had a series of stingers on my left side after the same nerve kept getting pinched. I got a hit on top of the head and it compressed my neck and shut off power to my left arm. I was out for 11 or 12 weeks but for a few weeks it looked like I might have to retire, so it was a watershed moment for me.”
Wood recalls hearing the fans’ victory cheers whilst waiting in the ambulance, and at the Gloucester Royal he had Morgan and Sharples for company – “The three of us had a WhatsApp group going in hospital.”
As well as four yellow cards, there were five tries and that dramatic finish. “Callum Braley scored after a length-of-field move but Sarries’ power that day was ridiculous and they scored three tries from driving mauls (via both Vunipola brothers and a penalty try).
“At 23-21 down it looked like Chris Ashton had scored to settle it but it was brought back for a penalty because he was in front of the kicker, and Hooky took the kick from nowhere near the right mark and got it.
“But we should have had a penalty much closer to the posts before that because we picked them up in the scrum.”
It was a bittersweet way to celebrate his 32nd birthday and proved a shot in the arm to a Gloucester side that had been struggling.
“It was a massive high and set us up for the rest of the season. From that point we went on a long unbeaten run at home and also won the Challenge Cup.”
MOST PREMIERSHIP MATCHES ON ONE GROUND
George Chuter (Leicester & Saracens) & Geordan Murphy (Leicester), Welford Road, 1998-2013
Nick Wood (Gloucester), Kingsholm, 2003-
Tom May (Newcastle, Northampton & London Welsh), Kingston Park, 1999-2015
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