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Wood keen to nail down number eight role
England's Tom Wood sees his long-term future at number eight - even though Sunday's RBS 6 Nations clash with Ireland will be his first ever senior start, for club or country, in the position.
Wood has been shifted across the back row from blindside flanker to replace the injured Ben Morgan, having finished England's wins against New Zealand and Scotland at number eight. The Northampton flanker is anxious not to be cast as 'Mr Versatile' - a reliable man who can cover all three back row positions - because that inevitably leads to bench duty.
But Wood is aware he will not always be able to play with the same all-action, high-octane style that makes him such an effective flanker. He said: "I have never started a game at number eight but I see my future in the position. My game is all about energy and intensity and I know that when I'm 32 I might not be able to play like that. I need to start developing the skills now."
Wood has not addressed the situation directly with the England coaches but Stuart Lancaster and Graham Rowntree clearly believe he has the ability to make the transition to number eight.
In the long term, Wood may need to add a few kilograms of bulk in order to deal with the heavy-duty contact work of a number eight but at the same time, he does not want to compromise his lineout ability.
Lancaster said: "We have done quite a bit of work with Tom (at number eight) over the autumn as well as the start of the Six Nations. James Haskell brings a different set of qualities to Ben Morgan. In Saturday's cameo performance he turned a couple of balls over and made 10 tackles.
"James has played at number eight for England, but I think James at six with Tom Wood at eight worked pretty well too. A lot of number eight work is managing the ball at the base. That is clearly something we need to work with Tom on."
England will start the game without two of their key ball-carrying threats - Morgan, who sprained his ankle in the 38-18 win against Scotland, and Manu Tuilagi. The Leicester powerhouse will return from his own ankle injury on the bench, with Lancaster convinced he will be most effective as a high-impact substitute.
Brad Barritt and Billy Twelvetrees will continue the midfield partnership they forged with some success in the 38-18 victory over Scotland. But Tuilagi will be sent into the fray at some stage - and he will have some pent up frustration to take out on Ireland.
"This is the first time I have been on the bench for England. I would have been ready and pumped up (to start)," Tuilagi said. "It is a bit frustrating not starting but Billy and Brad did well and it is good for the team. As long as I am able to help out then happy days. I will play my normal game as if I was starting. I will do the same thing. I will try to do the best I can do."