England flanker slams scheduling of NZ tour

SPEAKING HIS MIND: England and Northampton flanker Tom Wood.
SPEAKING HIS MIND: England and Northampton flanker Tom Wood.

England flanker Tom Wood has labelled the scheduling of his country's tour of New Zealand in June as "ridiculous".

The Northampton blindside is frustrated that players involved in the English Premiership final on May 31 will be forced to leave for New Zealand six days after the rest of the squad has already departed.

The scheduling means a host of English internationals won't be available for the first test on June 7 at Eden Park.

The England squad, excluding the players involved in the final, will arrive in New Zealand on Thursday May 29. The rest will land on Wednesday June 4, giving them no time to be in contention for the first test.

The first Saturday in June had been designated as a rest day for international rugby. That meant the first test between England and the All Blacks should have been on 14 June, instead of 7 June.

However, some nations argued that instead of the first Saturday of a particular month being designated as the rest day the interpretation should be broadened to include the whole weekend. As June 1 falls on a Sunday, it was decreed as the test rest day, even though it marks the end of the club season in Europe.

"It is ridiculous, in all honesty," Wood told the Guardian. "It splits your loyalties and poses a question you should never have to ask yourself. The reality is that playing in a Premiership final could do you out of an England cap. For some people that could be their first cap or the difference between getting in the side and cementing your place or not.

"Those are questions you should never have to ask. You should be doing the best you can for your club and playing yourself into contention for your country: the two should never be in conflict. It is an unusual scenario, one I do not fully understand, never mind agree with.

"As players, we have to put all this to the back of our minds and get on with the job in hand. There are so many variables that it is not worth getting wound up by them until they come into play. I just have to keep playing the best I can, hoping to keep fit and in form, taking each match as it comes, whether it is a final or a test match. You have to stay focused."

England head coach Stuart Lancaster will name a training squad of up to 20 players on Thursday whose season has already ended. Most of them will be preparing for the 31 May match against the Barbarians at Twickenham rather than the New Zealand tour, but with six clubs still in action - as well as the Premiership's top four, Bath are involved in next week's Amlin Challenge Cup final while Wasps have a two-legged play-off against Stade Français for a place in next season's Rugby Champions Cup - he needs insurance against injuries.

Some elite squad players will be included, such as Jonny May, Marland Yarde and Ben Morgan, but most of them will be aspirants, with the Exeter outside-half Henry Slade and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and theSale back-five forward Michael Paterson, a New Zealander who qualifies for England through a grandparent, likely to be called up.

Although Lancaster took umbrage at a weekend report that said he had asked for Danny Cipriani to be rested from the Sale side that travelled to London Irish - he had an ankle injury - the fly-half is set to be recalled six years after he won the last of his seven caps.

"I feel like my job throughout the season is to perform consistently and to the best of my ability for Saleand I feel like I've done that and in doing so you put your hand up to get selected for England," said Cipriani. "I feel like I've come on leaps and bounds this year, but I know there's stiff competition for places with England. There's a massive talent pool in my position and you can see what Stuart is trying to do in building competition for places throughout the team."

The IRB's decision to decree that the weekend of the playoff final is an international rest day means that Premiership clubs will not release their players to take part in the Wales trial on 20 May, ruling out Gavin Henson, Paul James, Rhys Gill and Owen Williams.