Saints skipper Wood opens up after Leinster horror show
It was a full hour before Tom Wood headed in to get showered and changed.
From 9.40pm to 10.40pm, the Saints skipper stood and spoke with the media, club staff and supporters after the horror show at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.
He may have seen his team hammered 37-10 and been the player sacrificed when Dylan Hartley was dismissed on 57 minutes, but Wood wasn’t hiding.
And, just as he has on so many other occasions, including the 2013 Premiership final, when Hartley was sent off against Leicester, and this season’s 41-7 calamity at Castres, he fronted up.
In an typically open and honest interview, he told the press what he had told his team-mates.
And once again, it made for fascinating listening, even if the words couldn’t change the actions that had gone before from Saints.
“From where I was, other than a few fleeting moments and a few brief glimpses when we scored our try and and kept them out for 20 phases on our line, they are the only two moments I can think we were in the fight and producing somewhere near our best,” Wood said, beginning to sum up the Saints display.
“It took us 30 minutes in the first half and we stood and watched them play.
“We spoke all week about having a big start, about not having a re-run of them coming here and humiliating us like they did three years ago but we were just flat.
“We were flat in the warm-up, I was worried in the warm-up and I said so pre-match.
“We didn’t produce anything like the level of fight, belief, togetherness for 20, 30 minutes into that game and we were lucky not to be further behind.
“At half-time, I thought we were lucky to still be in it but we were in it at 10-3 and with the quick try we scored and the momentum behind us, we were more than capable of winning that game, but it slipped away from us towards the end.
“We’re just not consistent enough.
“I’m pretty emotional at the minute, pretty hurt by the defeat so maybe there is an element of overreaction. I’m trying to be as real as possible and not be doom and gloom for the sake of it, but that’s how I felt out there and that’s what I felt looking around the team.
“For the most part, it’s not about tactics. It’s about not sustaining any pressure on the opposition.
“Some individuals fronted up at times, but collectively we didn’t apply anywhere near enough pressure to Leinster.
“We could have played brilliantly and still lost because they are a quality outfit with internationals across the board, but what’s frustrating is that we didn’t play anywhere near our best and we didn’t give them the game we should have.”
Saints are now seven points adrift of Leinster in Champions Cup Pool 4.
And they are 11 points off the top four in the Aviva Premiership.
So what can be done to turn the ship around?
“Out there, I didn’t feel we were anywhere near where we need to be in terms of intensity and emotion that we need on nights like this,” Wood said. “I honestly don’t know why that is. I’m searching for answers myself.
“I don’t know whether it’s the stage of the season, whether it’s the disconnect between the internationals and the rest of the squad, whether it’s people feeling sorry for themselves, too much game time, not enough game time.
“I’m searching for answers and I honestly don’t know what they are, but we were flat and it showed in the opening exchanges.
“Leinster came here and pumped us in the scrum. They mauled comfortably all night and we didn’t wreck a single one. We didn’t drive them out of town, we didn’t drive them into the stand once.
“They did it with ease and set a forward foundation.
“Now, are we a forward pack who pride ourselves on our togetherness like we did not so long ago, or are we happy for another set of forwards to come here and push us around? Because they pushed us around, in the scrum and in the maul.
“Ashamed is a strong word because I’m proud of my team, but I’m hurt by the fact that we’re not better.”
England captain Hartley was playing for Saints for the first time since returning from international duty.
He skippered his country to 13 wins from as many matches during 2016, but lasted just six minutes on his club comeback, having been introduced in the 51st minute.
And it was more disciplinary woe for Saints, who had Kieran Brookes and Calum Clark unavailable for the Leinster game due to suspension.
“I don’t want to make too much of Dylan in particular,” Wood said. “I know Dylan has had his run-ins over the years and I don’t want to add any fuel to that fire.
“Collectively, our discipline is poor. How many times does it have to happen?
“We’ve got three or four disciplinary hearings in the past month. We’ve got numerous players banned.
“We had a game won at Worcester and did our best to throw it away. We could have been banned on a couple of occasions there.
“The one time I see any aggression, watching on TV against Newcastle, we get a red card. What are we doing?
“Alex Waller away to Saracens when we’re right in the fight for 60 minutes... I’m not laying the blame at any individual because it’s not about the individuals, it’s about collectively understanding what’s expected.
“A one off is a one off, but we’ve had half a dozen.”
So just how does Wood go about helping to pick Saints up ahead of next Saturday’s trip to face Leinster in Dublin?
“I can try to lead from the front and I definitely try to do that,” said the England flanker, who was part of the Northampton team that won at the Aviva Stadium in December 2013, seven days after losing 40-7 to Leinster at the Gardens.
“I don’t want to be over-negative for the sake of it. I don’t want to be theatrical. I’m trying to be real and I’ve spoken similarly to the players inside.
“I’ve asked the questions and hopefully we come up with the answers.
“I’m not trying to be divisive within the team. I want to be honest and I want the lads to have a response and say ‘are we together?, do we want it? and are we up for it?’.
“What are the things that really matter that we can put right within a week? Because we can’t go and revise our whole attacking and defensive shape.
“We’ve got brilliant, brilliant players in that dressing room and we should be producing better than that.
“We can go toe-to-toe with Leinster and we can go and beat them next week, but it shouldn’t take a kicking like this to bring it out of you.
“It’s about consistency, it’s your intrinsic motivation.
“You can’t get a kicking in the press and a kicking out here at home to say ‘we’re going to play with pride this week’.
“You’ve got to do it out here in front of your own fans at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.”