Injury left Saints star Wood unable to walk during scary summer

Tom Wood was forced off against Sale in March (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Tom Wood was forced off against Sale in March (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Tom Wood may be sitting in the cold September air, shivering slightly and sporting a fresh black eye, but his sense of gratitude is clear.

He is simply savouring a successful comeback as he sits in the front row of the Church's Stand following the Wanderers' friendly defeat to London Irish.

Wood started in the No.6 shirt and, much to his own, and his supporters', satisfaction, he came through a 60-minute run-out unscathed.

That match action had been a long time coming for the flanker, who had been unable to feature in the black, green and gold since the bleak clash with Sale Sharks at a snow-laden Franklin's Gardens back in March.

In fact, since that time, Wood has gone through a gamut of emotions, from optimism to anxiety, from excitement to fear.

That is because so perplexing was the injury he picked up against Sale that diagnosing it, and consequently treating it, became extremely problematic.

"I don't even fully know an exact diagnosis, even now," Wood said.

"I did it against Sale during Six Nations time and I didn't really know what I'd done at the time.

"I'd come out of a maul, rotated to make a tackle and I didn't feel anything pop or tear or anything dramatic. I stood up and I couldn't move my knees properly.

"I was walking round in a weird way where I couldn't pick my legs up to run and I was thinking maybe I'd tweaked a nerve, but I tried to sprint in the kick chase and got left behind with the likes of Luther (Burrell), screaming at him to look after me in the defensive line.

"I had to come off in the end and I had multiple scans, went to see specialists and we thought we knew what we were doing.

"We were making progress for a couple of weeks and then I'd fall off a cliff and have a massive regression. I went through that two or three times.

"I thought it would be realistic for me to play at the back end of last season, but there were a couple of false horizons and I never made it.

"Even in the summer, I had a few occasions where I had a massive relapse where I could barely stand.

"It was fairly serious and uncertain as to what the future would hold at times.

"The closest diagnosis we've come to is pubic symphysis, which is the seam of your pelvis where something must have shifted or strained and it's such a crucial pivot point for your body, especially when you've got long limbs like me, and there's a lot of pressure and tension going through that area.

"I've been really well protected and looked after. I owe a huge thanks to Lee Daggett in particular on the physio table and Eamonn Hyland with my running and strength and conditioning.

"They've really taken good care of me and they've had to be innovative because it's been such a unique injury that normal protocols haven't really worked.

"I've actually enjoyed it because I've learned a lot even though I've been out for such a long period of time."

Wood is able to smile about it all now, but that certainly wasn't the case during the summer, when he was genuinely worried that he may be forced to call time on his career at the age of just 31.

"I didn't like to think like that, but that was probably a possible end," said the Coventry-born back row forward. "I really didn't know, particularly over the summer, when I'd had such an extensive rest already and I'd already tried a couple of treatments and approaches to my rehab and it hadn't worked. At that stage, I was thinking 'blimey'.

"There was a moment in the off-season where I couldn't stand up. I'd come downstairs on my hands and knees, I couldn't get out of bed in the morning. It was out of nowhere as well, not as a reaction to training or doing anything dramatic. I just could not stand up.

"I had a shooting pain up my hips and pelvis and I didn't know what was going on.

"I don't want to be too dramatic, it didn't last that long, it was probably a 12-hour thing, so it has been a bit of a long road back and at times it felt like a really long way back.

"But I've been looked after really well and, step by step, I've been really cautious with managing it.

"It's been symptom-driven and we've never set a time frame, not said I'll be right in two months or three months, we've always just said it will be governed by symptoms and take it day by day.

"They have never pushed me because what happens is that when I get a little bit of progress, I start to get excited, a little bit carried away and I need a strong physio and a good strength and conditioning coach to hold me back and be pragmatic.

"I can be a bit of a nightmare to deal with so I'm glad I had guys here to manage me properly."

But that careful management has inevitably come at a small cost because while others were using games to make an impression on new boss Chris Boyd, Wood, who was Saints' club captain for the 2016/17 campaign, had to sit in the shadows and wait for his chance to arrive.

"It's been unbelievably frustrating because it's been such an exciting fresh start for the club and I want to be there putting my hand up and I want to be really positive, training and leading from the front," Wood said.

"I want to be showing what I'm about, not resting on any experience, previous caps or reputation - I want to be earning it from day one with the rest of the boys, especially in pre-season when they're doing all the hard yards.

"But I've just had to be patient, play the long game.

"Luckily I came through Monday night and I'll be back fighting for my place in the first team before long."

This is a particularly big season for Wood as his current Saints contract ends next summer.

But the flanker, who has 50 England caps to his name, is determined not to let the desire to earn a new deal be his main motivation this season.

"I try not to think like that because I want to play well for the right reasons," he said.

"I want to play well and be part of a successful team and do all the things to put Saints first and play the best rugby I can.

"I want to be a really good team-mate and player for the squad so I don't want to be playing selfishly thinking I've got to individually impress.

"It is getting to a stage where I need to put something out on the pitch to show Chris and the other coaches what I can do so they can make an informed decision on whether I'm around here next year."

Tom Wood made his long-awaited return to action for the Wanderers on Monday night

Tom Wood made his long-awaited return to action for the Wanderers on Monday night