Amongst the raft of changes at Kingsholm over the summer, one familiar shaven head remains. Following James Simpson-Daniel’s retirement prop Nick Wood is now the longest serving member of the squad, and working with his fifth different director of rugby at Kingsholm, having been signed by Nigel Melville.
“It felt strange sitting in a team meeting at the start of the season, looking around and realising that from the old guard there was only Sinbad and I left” said Wood. “Obviously now it’s only me, although Alex Brown and Tim Taylor have non playing roles. It’s a bit daunting in a way but I’ve been around long enough and seen the squad change enough times to realise you have to make the most of the group. Everyone has their own personality and something to add.”
“It has felt like a gear change though, on the coaching side as well as the playing side. It’s a real investment from the club. Only Trevor Woodman remains from the previous coaching set-up, and he was only part of it towards the end of last season. The new players have come in and pushed training levels because everyone is trying to keep up with James Hook, John Afoa and Richard Hibbard. The average age is down even though some of the guys are over 30 but they have a lot of rugby left in them and I think it’s a good balance of age and experience.”
I’ve been lucky to interview props at Gloucester for nigh on 20 years and Wood is a chip off the old block in that regard – thoughtful, droll at times, and rated highly by his peers, even if that hasn’t translated into a bucket load of England caps. He’s conscious too, that in terms of honours he has some catching up to do, having been loyal to Gloucester throughout his career.
“I missed out on the 2006 Challenge Cup final through injury, so I didn’t feel 100% part of it, and in 2007-08 I was part of the squad that fell at the final hurdle in the Premiership. To me, that still stings even now. Gloucester is one of the four teams to have constantly been in the top division and the other three (Bath, Leicester and Wasps) have all won it. That tells a tale of nearly men and I want to be around when we are up there again and finish the job off, although as a squad we’re not talking about titles or top four or top six because we are effectively starting from scratch.”
“We’re talking about a philosophy and brand of rugby that we want to play, based on individual performances of a certain calibre. Nine times out of ten the result should take care of itself in that situation. David (Humphreys) runs the show but he trusts his team underneath him to do their jobs. Lawrie (Fisher) has an instinctive feel for the game and Trevor (Woodman) continues in my opinion to make a real impact because he offers real insight in terms of individual technique.”
It has been unusual for Wood to miss games on fitness grounds in recent times. The odd minor operation at the end of the season has been down to wear and tear, and he’s working harder than ever to stay in the best possible shape, conceding that in his early days at Gloucester youth and overall fitness would carry him through if he had a beer after a match. Do that these days and you’ll soon be out of the team, such is the competition for places.
“We’ve made some incredible signings. We’ve got three international class fly halves now (Hook, Laidlaw and Twelvetrees) and guys like Mark Atkinson and Jacob Rowan have come in and impressed me. I’m also glad we’ve got Aleki Lutui. I hated playing against him. He’d hit you in the tackle like you would never believe, it was like running into a wall. He’s an absolute tank and as fit as ever.”
Soon, Gloucester will embark on their pool games in the Challenge Cup, starting with Brive at home. Wood hasn’t played so far this season because of spasms in his back. An ideal time, perhaps, to be eased in.
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