sport

Wood targets Italian job

Italy's downfall next weekend could be home made, with England's Tom Wood revealing his injury-beating footwear comes from the peninsula.

Stuart Lancaster's side are on course for England's first RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam in a decade and, having impressively beaten Scotland, Ireland and France, they will clash with Italy on March 10 before travelling to face Wales six days later.

The Azzurri will be undoubtedly looking to spoil the party at Twickenham, although any chances of an upset could have been weakened by Italian craftsmanship.

Wood, who starred in England's 23-13 defeat of France on Saturday, has long struggled with a foot injury, which is managed by a satellite tracking device and special boots - designed in Italy.

"A lot of modern boots are made for footballers, very light and agile, less substance to the boots so you've got more feel for the ball," Wood said.

"They are not really designed for 17-stone rugby players colliding with someone else of equal weight or plodding up and down, or landing from height at a lineout.

"We needed extra support in the boot. Most boots under the weight of a rugby player will collapse as you flex the toe. They'll just bend in half which puts enormous strain on the ball of my foot and the big toe, which is where the problem was.

"So, they get sent to Italy. It must go to one of their labs where they stiffen them, put insoles in them, and now they don't flex very much. They are far more substantial.

"There's a bit more cushion in there. I've got special orthotics which are designed for my foot to off-load the ball of my foot and give me a bit more support there.

"The boot itself doesn't flex the way a normal boot does. It's very rigid along the bottom so I don't get into those extreme ranges in terms of the ball of my foot."

The changes in footwear have seen Wood drop two shoe sizes to a 10-and-a-half in order to help to stop his foot slipping.

Such attention to detail has helped him get back to his best and lifted a weight off his mind, if only come matchday.

"I don't think about it once I'm in the zone," Wood said. "It's something I think about a lot in the week in terms of working out the best way to get to the match in the best possible shaper.

"It does flare up, it is something I have to manage, to ice. I have the odd stressful day when I think is it going to quieten down for the game, but I've done it enough now. I've got my protocols.

"The physios have been brilliant in managing my load: monitoring the GPS, how many metres I run in the week, the nature of the training I do and the recovery training I do in terms of icing and mobility of the foot."

The improved level of comfort saw Wood play the full 80 minutes of Saturday's battling victory over France, after which forwards coach Graham Rowntree said it was his best performance in England shirt.

"I am pleased to hear that as it wasn't necessarily a flash game," Wood added. "Graham knows what he is looking for in a back-row player.

"It is not necessarily offloads out the back door, flair and try-scoring. It's the nitty-gritty. It's hard work on the ground, work-rate and making your tackles, making sure the ball is secure in rucks and things like that.

"That does please me because that is something I pride myself on and I've been working very hard.

"It was a real tough game so to come through, get the win and to hear that from the likes of Graham is pleasing."