England not afraid to speak of Slam

The Northern Echo: ON THE CHARGE: England No 8 Tom Wood tries to burst between two French defenders ON THE CHARGE: England No 8 Tom Wood tries to burst between two French defenders

TOM WOOD insisted England cannot ignore the fact they are just two steps away from winning a first Grand Slam in a decade following their 23-13 victory over France.

Two years ago, Martin Johnson effectively banned all use of the phrase Grand Slam as England built towards their decisive game against Ireland.

Having tried to keep the preparations low key, England were blown away in Dublin by an Ireland side who relished the prospect of ruining the Grand Slam party on St Patrick’s weekend.

Wood argues England must be aware of the passion their Grand Slam tilt will rouse in Italy and in Wales on the final weekend of the RBS 6 Nations.

The England No 8 is not afraid to frame the next three weeks in a Grand Slam context because he is convinced the team will not get carried away with the hype.

‘‘We took the approach a couple of years ago where we just batted back questions about the Grand Slam as much as we could and refused to talk on the issue,’’ Wood said.

‘‘You’ve got to entertain the fact that that’s going to be a huge expectation and that it is going to be something the opposition want to take away from you as well.

‘‘That’s extra motivation for them. We have to be ready for those tests, we have to be ready for that extra desire in the opposition that comes with trying to rob the English of a potential party.

‘‘The second we forget what got us here (three wins from three) we are in trouble. That has always been our mantra.

‘‘We’ve got very grounded coaches who instil that in us from the start. We like to play things down, not get ahead of ourselves and make sure we are always working hard.

‘‘It’s important we stick to those values. We are a very tight group, a very humble group I like to think.

‘‘But within the camp we have a lot of faith in each other. I look around the huddle before a game and I think ‘I’m glad he’s on our side’.

‘‘That goes for every player.

I’ve got a lot of faith in the guys around me and I’ve got that faith because I see the way they work day in, day out.

‘‘I see them in the gym, I see them grafting and I hear them talk in meetings and that’s what fills me with confidence to go out on a matchday and perform.’’ The Twickenham public will expect England to beat Italy and tee up a shot at the Grand Slam against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.

But Wood cannot look that far ahead. He views Italy, even without the great Sergio Parisse, as too much of a potential banana-skin.

‘‘Those games are tough when there’s very little expectation,’’ Wood said.

‘‘We talked about how easy it was to get up for the All Blacks game in December. It’s important for us to be up for the game no matter what the opposition.

‘‘All our motivation and all our self-belief comes from what we do in the week, the way we inspire each other. It’s the will to work through for one another.’’ That character, drive and determination carried England to victory over France, who were the better team for most of the first hour in a brutal contest.

But England hung in there with the likes of Wood and Chris Robshaw battling heroically with the French back row.

Manu Tuilagi’s try after 54 minutes, created by Wood’s hack from the bottom of a ruck, then put the home side in control and they dominated the final quarter.

‘‘I did regard this as a dangerous game. France, after two defeats on the bounce coming to Twickenham, were going to be at their most motivated,’’ Lancaster said.

‘‘Itwas going to be dangerous so I’m delighted. The character was tremendous.

‘‘We talked last week about the growing level of expectation around the squad.

‘‘We had a meeting about that and the players actually came up with the answer themselves which is to focus on the next performance and what gives you the result is the detail in that performance.

‘‘They understand the connection between the two. If you start chasing the result and the stuff at the end then it tends to catch you out.’’

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