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Wood puts team first

Published 22/05/2015

Northampton flanker Tom Wood is relishing an Aviva Premiership play-off showdown against Saracens on Saturday
Northampton flanker Tom Wood is relishing an Aviva Premiership play-off showdown against Saracens on Saturday

England star Tom Wood says that Northampton will take a "team-first mentality" with them into Saturday's Aviva Premiership play-off showdown against Saracens and not be distracted by individual battles.

Two of the English domestic game's fiercest rivals go head to head just three days after England head coach Stuart Lancaster announced a 50-man World Cup training squad that contains 18 players from Northampton and Saracens.

But the immediate prize on offer for those individuals is a place in next Saturday's Premiership final at Twickenham, rather than World Cup-related matters that are further down the line.

"You have got to be on page with your team," Saints flanker Wood said.

"I think individual battles and sideshows like that can distract individuals and become a problem. Our biggest strength is the way we play together and the way we work together - our team-first mentality.

"I am sure Saracens would say the same, but that is the mantra that we have got to take into the game - put the team first, play selflessly, give everything to the cause.

"Hopefully, as a team, you play well and therefore individuals shine. If we are winning then individuals look good, and if we are champions then it is easy to pick a champion (for international duty)."

Both Northampton and Saracens have qualified for sixth successive play-off appearances, and a treat lies in store if Saturday's clash at Franklin's Gardens matches last season's Premiership final between the clubs for drama and intensity.

On that occasion, prop Alex Waller's try during the dying seconds of extra-time gave Northampton a 24-20 victory, while Saints won both regular season games this term, claiming a 25-20 verdict at home and prevailing 31-24 away.

Saracens, though, have a marginally better Premiership play-off record than Northampton, and Wood is well aware of the threat they pose to Saints' quest for a successful title defence this term.

"They are a very disciplined side, and when they sort a plan out and come to a game with a game-plan, they stick to it," he added.

"They don't get bored. They do it relentlessly until you get bored, crack and do something you would not normally do out of frustration, really. It often costs you.

"We like to think that we have added a few subtleties, but fundamentally we are a confrontational team.

"We try to play quick, and that's a pretty simple mantra.

"We challenge teams to come to stop us, and if they can, then credit to them. If not, we get front-foot ball and get our big forwards carrying around the corner and the likes of Samu Manoa over the gain-line, and then life is difficult for them."

Northampton boss Jim Mallinder has made two changes from the side that beat London Welsh a fortnight ago - both in the front row - as props Alex Corbisiero and Salesi Ma'afu pack down either side of skipper Dylan Hartley.

Wing Chris Ashton, though, is on the bench for Saracens against his former club after missing much of this week's training due to illness, but fit-again England centre Brad Barritt is restored to midfield alongside Duncan Taylor after recovering from injury.

Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said: "When we started this period with Saracens six years ago we said that we wanted to be a really consistent team.

"We wanted to be a team who would be there at the business end of the season giving ourselves a shot at competitions.

"This is our sixth consecutive play-off now, and in Europe we've been in quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals, and we have done that in the Premiership as well. We have given ourselves another shot at it."

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