THROUGH THEIR EYES: Northampton Saints 21 Leicester Tigers 20 - Tom Wood

There will be few, if any, Saints fans who have not watched Tom Wood’s try against Leicester in the 2013/14 Premiership play-off semi-final several times.

By Tom Vickers
Saturday, 16th May 2020, 7:00 am
Tom Wood scored the most dramatic of winning tries against Leicester Tigers on May 16, 2014
Tom Wood scored the most dramatic of winning tries against Leicester Tigers on May 16, 2014

But how many know the story behind the score?

Well, the answer to that is probably not many, if any at all.

Because, for the first time, Wood has spoken publicly about events leading up to one of the most memorable moments, and matches, in Saints history.

Today marks exactly six years since Saints secured a 21-20 success in almost unbelievable circumstances to see off familiar foes Leicester Tigers and book a place at Twickenham.

They would, of course, go on to win the title, which remains their only Premiership crown to date.

But none of that would have been possible had Wood not latched on to a late Luther Burrell pass and found a way over the line at Franklin’s Gardens.

Here, Wood talks us through one of the best days of his life as the indefatigable flanker reflects on Saints’ stunning triumph.

Wood was a key figure in the lineout

Q: What was your build-up to the game like?

A: I don’t know if I’ve ever said this publicly before but I moved house on the day of the game and I promised myself I wouldn’t overdo it. I had the keys to my new place and I was like ‘it would be great just to get a few things across so I’ll go along and won’t get carried away’. I wanted to do all my preparation right but I’ll be honest I completely lost sight of that and ended up massively overdoing it and moving my whole house on the day of the game. What I’m like is I’ll just pick up a washing machine and move it, a fridge and I’m just manhandling stuff. It got to the end of the day and I was like ‘what have I done?’, ‘I’ve done a full day’s graft here’. I was really sweating on it and thinking ‘I simply cannot let anyone down now, you’ve got to find a way to get the best performance out of yourself and the team and no one can ever know about this’. I just ate as much fuel as I could, I was eating and eating right up to kick-off to make sure I had the calories in and the reserves so I could find the will to play and not run empty on fuel. That was just in the moments in the build-up to the game because once I’m on the pitch, I’ve never found I’ve had any issue getting up for a game or being able to deliver physically. I’ve not always played brilliantly - everyone has good and bad days - but I’ve never been found wanting in terms of aggression and desire. It was just one of those days where I had probably the worst prep I could have imagined but the best outcome I could have imagined.

Q: What was said in the dressing room before the match?

A: I honestly can’t remember too much of it. I was a little bit in my own world, making sure I wasn’t going to be making any mistakes or letting anyone down. It was Phil Dowson who started the game as captain, although we were leading the team together in Dylan Hartley’s absence at that stage. Myself, Phil, Calum (Clark) all bounced off each other from a leadership perspective and the team took care of itself. We had some great characters and players so not a lot needed saying in those days. We had trust in guys around us and the atmosphere kind of did all the work for us. When you turn up to an East Midlands derby, there’s always that heightened atmosphere and it was even better. We’d lost to them in the final the year before and not much needed saying.

Wood was fully focused during the play-off semi-final

Q: How confident did you feel that you could win?

A: I certainly don’t want to sound arrogant or that we were complacent or that it was a foregone conclusion, but we did feel like it was our year and our time. I remember the confidence we had in ourselves. There are times when I’ve played against the likes of Leicester and they’ve felt invincible, it’s felt like we can’t beat this team and they will find a way to win. In that year and on that occasion, it felt the other way around. It felt like we were unbeatable and we were too dynamic, with Courtney (Lawes) and Samu (Manoa) in the second row and Sam Dickinson in top form. I watched those games back just recently and I thought Sam Dickinson was outstanding in those games. He was someone who perhaps didn’t get the credit he deserved, but he was just awesome, a real catalyst in those games. Across the board, we had the likes of (Ben) Foden at their best and it was just quality.

Q: What was it like when you scored?

A: It was just a culmination of everything. The emotion and reaction were 100 per cent genuine. I obviously don’t plan a try celebration because I don’t score enough to worry about that, it’s just a case of all the emotion pouring out. I had run-ins with Leicester before: I’d been sent off, we’d lost in the final and Dylan had been sent off, we’d had multiple punch-ups and just generally controversial games against them. We’d been to numerous semi-finals and come up short and it just felt like our year. It definitely felt like our time and we made it hard for ourselves with Salesi (Ma’afu) getting carded and when I scored it just felt like we’d cracked it at that point.

There was a roar of delight as Wood and 14-man Saints celebrated the try that took them to Twickenham

Q: When was the moment you knew you had won it?

A: In the moment of scoring, I felt like we’d done enough but then I saw the clock and my attention quickly turned to kick-off because actually we hadn’t won it after the try and the kick-off was probably the most important bit. It’s so easy to knock the ball at a kick-off and then you’re in the hands of the referee. If it goes to a scrum, it’s a 50-50 that the referee gives you a decision or not. If Leicester get the ball in our half then the quality and pedigree and history they’ve got they can get a penalty or drop goal and they win the game. Everything would have been for nothing if we’d lost the kick-off so I was concerned about that when I realised there was time to start the game.

Q: What was the atmosphere like for the players?

A: I’m very aware of it and it was the best atmosphere ever in a club game that I can remember. It was even better than playing at Twickenham, from my point of view. I don’t know if the Leicester lads would agree with how white-hot the atmosphere was or what someone who was impartial would think, but on the day it felt amazing. I watched it the other day and I was still nervous. I’d forgotten a lot of what had happened because there was so much going on in that game. I’ve obviously seen the rerun of my scoring the try and everything numerous times but I had never actually watched the game back in full. It was an amazing game, actually a quality game. I was just really proud of the performance as a whole in the semi-final and final because we won those games playing great rugby and they were really competitive games. You could win a league and play average really because the game doesn’t always live up to the hype of a final or a semi-final but I feel like both teams contributed, both Leicester and Saracens, to a real quality game of rugby and it made sure the occasion lived up to the billing. We couldn’t have done much more on the day in terms of entertaining people and having drama and a spectacle.

Q: What was the feeling like when the final whistle blew?

A: It was kind of a combination of elation and exhaustion for me. It was a relief that I personally hadn’t stuffed up after moving house earlier that day. We got the job done andI was chuffed for everyone. You could see what it meant to everyone, how excited everyone was, the emotion that was pouring out in the crowd. The fact it was an East Midlands derby as well made it so much more special and guys like Dylan would get to play in the final again after what happened the year before. It was a great occasion and a realisation we had another chance.

Wood was a relieved man when the final whistle blew at Franklin's Gardens

Q: How did you celebrate on and off the pitch?

A: The job obviously wasn’t done so we couldn’t celebrate too much but you’ve got to enjoy occasions like that. I don’t think we had a team social or anything, I’m not sure if any of the young lads had a beer or anything. I honestly can’t remember. I was in my new house and I was about done in, physically and emotionally, and also conscious we couldn’t sign off too early. We had a job to do in the next two weeks.

Wood was given the Superman award in training after his winning try