sport

Wood braced for physical contest

Tom Wood delivered a stirring battle cry for England just days before they face the ultimate "man test" against South Africa at Twickenham.

Wood is fired up for what is expected to be his first England start since recovering from the foot injury which sidelined him for eight months after the 2011 World Cup.

Had he been fit when Stuart Lancaster took charge, the Northampton flanker may well have been England's captain going into Saturday's showdown with the ferocious Springboks.

Wood sounded every inch the leader on Tuesday as he passionately demanded that England meet South Africa's physical challenge head on.

"It's not going to be a surprise, what's coming. It's going to be a tough physical challenge. It's us against them," Wood said.

"James Haskell, who has experienced playing in the Super 15, says that playing South Africans is like a man test.

"They look at you, they look for your biggest guy and get theirs to run at him as hard as he can to see who comes out on top.

"If you do show any fear and if you do back off to any extent you've got a long day at the office. You have to match it head on and make that early low tackle.

"If one of them comes charging in, teeth gritted, full of rage and gets his legs lassoed on the gain line, spills the ball or gets turned over, then that has a big negative effect on them.

"With the physical challenge that is coming our way at the weekend, there has got to be an element of that (nastiness), definitely.

"That would definitely be something I would look to bring to the team. That is the type of game I love playing anyway. I'm very combative.

"I'm not the biggest person physically in the world but I'm combative and abrasive and I like to get stuck in.

"This challenge South Africa present is exactly the type I enjoy and it's going to be at the highest level."

England were bullied by the Springboks in the first two Tests of their summer tour but responded courageously to earn a 14-14 draw in Port Elizabeth.

And they need to show the same resolve this weekend as they look to bury the disappointment of their 20-14 defeat to Australia, when they were bossed at the breakdown.

"We've got to remind the team of Port Elizabeth. There was a fighting spirit in that game," England defence coach Andy Farrell said.

"We took our defensive game to them and that is how it has got to be this weekend."

For all that aggression and physicality, Australia's performance last weekend showed to England that composure will be just as vital a quality in the heat of battle.

The Wallabies arrived at Twickenham full of emotion after their 33-6 defeat to France the previous weekend, but remained clear-headed and calculated.

"That is what impressed me most about Australia. All the chat was about the backlash and they were very composed, even though the pressure was on them as a group," Farrell added.

"They were clinical in what they did and they executed very well. That is the key. We can't just be a raging bull in a china shop.

"You hope for a lot of emotion but if you run around enraged for 20 minutes you will be knackered. You have to use it in the right way."

England have been developing a dynamic gameplan that puts an emphasis on avoiding contact, making that extra pass so as not being drawn into an arm-wrestle when in possession.

Finding the right selection balance between creativity, dynamism and power - particularly in the pack and midfield - will be key.

England are having to decide, for example, between the attacking promise of Jonathan Joseph and defensive solidity of Brad Barritt in the centre, and Lancaster will confirm his starting line-up on Thursday.

"We have got to be smart. We want to be able to maul and brawl and we want to be able to give the subtle pass and play football," Wood said.

"We have got to get that balance right throughout the pack because we want to have both strings to our bow. We want to impose our game on them."