England players told to shape and sharpen up
England players are on report to improve their fitness levels ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup but flanker Tom Wood believes it's the mental fitness they lack in comparison to the ruthless All Blacks.
An expanded England squad have just concluded a training camp. They debriefed their recent tour of New Zealand where they lost 3-0 to the All Blacks and outlined plans for their run into the World Cup they host next year.
Fitness tops the priority list. Desperate to expand their game, they are demanding better fitness levels to achieve that.
But Wood, the 27-year-old flanker who spent a year working and playing rugby in New Zealand in 2006, believes winning the mind games are just as important if they are to wrestle the world title away from the All Blacks.
"It is not so much about fitness as mental sharpness, about smelling blood and putting the throttle down. The All Blacks do that better than anyone else. When they have got you, they have really got you. It is a mental thing," Wood told The Telegraph newspaper in Britain.
He believed England were guilty of fatigue on their New Zealand tour that came on the back of an arduous European season.
"It was not so much about fitness as mental fatigue at the end of a long season. It is harsh to call us unfit on the back of that."
Having been edged in the first two tests in Auckland and Dunedin by late rallies from the All Blacks, England were blitzed by a first half assault from New Zealand in the third test in Hamilton.
"To fall away as we did in that test is totally unacceptable," Wood declared. "It was hard to take. I got worked up over some things. We can't be in that position again. We won't be that vulnerable again. We showed our deficiencies in some areas."
Wood did concede the fitness levels required for test rugby far exceeded the English club game and, indeed, the top levels of European club play. Statistics presented to the English squad at their camp proved this.
"International level is dramatically different to the club game. We have been shown data that illustrates that. There is about a 20-minute difference between international and club rugby, which is huge," Wood told The Telegraph.
"The game against France at the start of last season's Six Nations championship had 46 minutes of ball-in-play time, the highest I have known. It is regularly up around that level against the All Blacks in particular. They are fast games with ball in play a lot.
"Even the Heineken Cup [now the Champions Cup], is not bridging the gap. That is a more static, power-based game, whereas international rugby jumps to a really fast tempo. Everyone wants to throw quick line-outs, nobody wants to wait around and have a talk [about strategy] that way we do in the Premiership, the way set-piece dominant teams do. Everybody wants to keep the ball moving. We have to recognise that and train for it."