England vs Argentina: Tom Wood proves his worth against the Pumas - but it's a case of now or never for the veteran

The 30-year-old showed he can still slum it with England's bright youngsters as a resilient home side clinched a 27-14 victory at Twickenham

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The Independent Online

As a player who has emerged from the wilderness, and looks like he’s spent a fair bit of time in it too, Tom Wood’s recent recall to the England squad has handed the flanker a golden opportunity to get his international career back on track.

Wood’s future in the red and white jersey had looked in severe jeopardy when the 30-year-old revealed that coach Eddie Jones had described him as “distinctly average” when they spoke in January. Unsurprisingly, the player was subsequently shunned by Jones who left the one-time England captain out of his 2016 Six Nations squad and continued to overlook him for the historic series victory against Australia in June.

But with injuries to the likes of James Haskell, Jack Clifford, Sam Jones and  Maro Itoje, Jones has found himself with little option but to turn to the Saints man. Not that he turns to a man of inexperience or inability, however. 

The flanker featured in both the 2011 and 2015 World Cups and was a constant presence under Stuart Lancaster’s tenure. At 30 years of age, he may lack the dynamism, pace and power of his fellow backrowers, but in a team sprinkled with youth, Wood’s experience helps bring a level-headedness to a team that, in spite of it’s recent renaissance under Jones, still has a lot to learn. 

As with his performance against South Africa two weekends ago, Wood looked reliable and assured against Argentina on Saturday at Twickenham. Leaving the the carrying to bigger, stronger players, Wood was at his best down on the deck putting in the dirty work.

His first big tackle came in the 21st minute as he swooped in low to bring the marauding Matias Moroni down to the ground just inside England’s own half. It was well-timed and well-executed, taking away the Argentine’s feet from beneath him, and allowed Billy Vunipola to get down low to force the penalty.

Five minutes later, Wood was back at it. England’s George Kris blocked Tomas Cubelli’s box-kick inside the Pumas’ own 22, with the ball falling favourably to Pablo Matera. Before he had time to turn, Wood pounced and smothered the Argentine with a powerful tackle to prove that he still retains a razor-sharp reading of the game. 

This understanding was similarly reflected in his positioning. Indeed, for England’s penalty-try it was Wood who had been the intended recipient of Billy Vunipola’s short pass down on the left-hand side touchline. Had the pass been completed, and not knocked down mid-flight, Wood would have been over for the try. As should be with an open-side flanker, the 30-year-old was here, there and everywhere as a resilient England side dug deep against the visitors.

After being briefly withdrawn to make way for Kyle Sinckler, who stepped in for the sin-binned Dan Cole, Wood returned in the second half with aplomb. On the 65 minute mark, the flanker latched onto the felled Pablo Matera just outside of the Pumas’ 22 to force the penalty and set Owen Farrell up for a kick between the sticks. 

Of course, aspects of Woods’ game were off the mark with his fitness letting him down at times. As the game wore on he was guilty of lagging behind the pace of play and missed a notable tackle in the centre of the park which enabled the visitors to mount a dangerous attack. Although his handling was on point for Jonny May’s try, he later dropped the ball with four minutes left on the clock to cut dead a promising English charge down the left-flank.

Prior to Saturday’s game, Wood had remarked that he felt there was a “buzz” and “confidence” to the English game. Given the side’s resilience and resolve to survive with 14 men following Elliot Daly’s dismissal in the fifth minute, clearly Jones’ men are not a side short on confidence. The same can be said about Wood. To give him credit, there was a certain “buzz” to his own game; a hunger and passion to prove his worth to the side.

And ultimately, Wood did everything required of him on Saturday. Reliable, responsible and robust, he rarely put a foot wrong. But to prove he can offer more than just “fish and chips”, as Jones hilariously marked in the aftermath of last week’s victory against Fiji, then Wood will need to go one step further. To stand any chance of realistically competing with the number seven shirt, Wood needs to deliver on the urgency and panache that England's younger backrowers can provide. With one game remaining in this Autumn’s international series, it’s now or never for the 30-year-old.

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