TOM WOOD hopes to resurrect his international career to ensure last year’s failed World Cup is not his final experience in an England jersey.
Wood’s most recent Test appearance was in the rout of Uruguay 12 months ago but, by the time the South Americans arrived in Manchester, the hosts had already been knocked out of the tournament, their fate sealed by defeats to Wales and Australia.
The Northampton captain, who turns 30 tomorrow, was a permanent fixture under Stuart Lancaster, but was immediately axed by Eddie Jones on the grounds of being “distinctly average”.
An injury crisis has swept through England’s back row, however, to present the opportunity to add to his 42 caps in the Old Mutual Wealth series, which opens with South Africa’s visit to Twickenham on November 12.
“I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to be back here at some point,” Wood said at the squad’s training camp on the Algarve.
“I knew it may take an injury or 10 to get me here, but that’s the nature of the game.
“If and when I eventually finish with England, it would be nice to finish on a high. It (the World Cup) was an incredibly disappointing moment in time, but, as a professional rugby player, I don’t dwell on it from day to day.
“I played for Northampton the following week. I’ve got a full season under my belt since then and you move on.
“I’ll always wish that things had been different at that World Cup and that we were more successful, but that’s true of every game I lose.”
Wood has an outside chance of starting at openside against the Springboks, although it was uncapped Nathan Hughes who trained alongside Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola during yesterday’s training session in Vilamoura.
A high work-rate and line-out option are Wood’s key strengths, but it is his ability to cover six, seven and eight that could see him picked on the bench on Saturday week.
“Eddie has been in fairly regular contact, giving me a few pointers and touching base now and again to let me know the door has never been closed, so that has been good for me morale-wise to keep pushing,” Wood said.
“I was always pretty philosophical about the whole thing. I never got too worked up about it. I didn’t throw my toys out of the pram.
“The reality was that I wasn’t picked because what he had seen from me hadn’t been good enough at that stage.
“The fact that he did touch base to let me know he was watching gave me that bit of encouragement that I wasn’t too far away and that if a couple of injuries cropped up – which they inevitably do in the back row – then I was ready and waiting.
“The door is ajar for me now. I’ve got one foot through it, but now I have to show what I am about in training. Sometimes you get a better feel for a person once you are in a camp like this and you are training and preparing.
“Hopefully I can put my best foot forward and do myself justice and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Wood’s shaggy appearance has prompted comparisons with Samson and Rambo from Jones, and he intends keeping his locks and beard intact.
“The hair was just me being lazy initially, but then it seemed a shame to waste all that growth time,” said Wood, who was a black belt in Japanese martial art jiu-jitsu at the age of 13.
“It’s going to have to stay now with getting called Samson in the press. I have to figure out something to do with it – maybe a French plait or a ponytail.”
Jones and England have been shortlisted for awards by World Rugby following an outstanding start to the Australian’s Twickenham reign.
Jones has been nominated for coach of the year after winning all nine Tests since being appointed Stuart Lancaster’s successor in the wake of last autumn’s failed World Cup.
The 56-year-old is competing for the award alongside Steve Hansen of New Zealand and Ben Ryan, who steered Fiji to a first gold medal in the nation’s Olympic history on sevens’ Games debut at Rio 2016.
Earlier this year England completed a first Grand Slam since 2003.