Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Woody takes bad year on nose

All Black loosehead eager to line up against France after forgettable season including stint in hospital

Tony Woodcock is expecting a good tussle against his French opposite Nicolas Mas. Photo / Christine Cornege
Tony Woodcock is expecting a good tussle against his French opposite Nicolas Mas. Photo / Christine Cornege

The low point of Tony Woodcock's year could well have been last week when he was lying in an Auckland hospital bed for two days hooked up to an antibiotic drip fighting an infection in his nose which had made him look like a cartoon character.

The All Blacks and Highlanders loosehead prop wasn't sure all the fuss was necessary but he was grateful all the same.

The sooner his abscess was sorted, something which in Steve Hansen's words made him look like Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer, the sooner he would be able to get back on the training field and the hope of some game time.

The hospital admission was the latest in a series of episodes of bad luck for Woodcock. The move from the Blues to the Highlanders for this year's Super rugby competition was supposed to revitalise his career but it hasn't worked out that way. Instead it must rank as one of his most frustrating seasons yet as the Highlanders dropped game after game, with Woodcock missing four due to a hamstring problem and now the abscess.

Front rowers thrive on matches. It enables them to gain momentum and form - look at how Ben Franks' move from the Crusaders to the Hurricanes boosted him to new heights. For Woodcock it helped bring about a new low, but his being named on the reserves bench for tonight's second test against France is a step in the right direction.

"To be fair, it's been a tough season - when your team's not winning and things are not going as well as you'd like it is frustrating, but that's life," he said. "You've just got to get on with it and keep improving and trying."

Of the nose, which looks virtually flawless now - unusual for a tight forward - he said simply: "It was an infection that got a bit out of hand and it needed a strong dose of antibiotics to knock it on the head."

Coach Hansen put it a little differently.

"If you had seen his nose last week you'd definitely say he hadn't had a happy year," he said.

"I think that sums his year up. He's come back and played and had two or three games and got injured or in this case he got a nose infection which put him in hospital for two days. Is it a chance for him to start [to turn a corner]? Yeah it is, but what he's going to need is a continual roll of being able to perform. If we can get four, five, six, seven, eight games in a row into him, I think we'll see the real Tony Woodcock. Front row is difficult. You've got to play at least three games before you're comfortable at scrum time.

"We've put a lot of work into him ... but I'm expecting Woody to flourish in this environment. He always has, he's played well, he's been probably one of the leading loosehead props in world rugby. I think he's still got plenty of miles in him.

"Physically he's battled to get out on the park and that's made it really difficult."

In fact, Woodcock, a 32-year-old veteran of 96 tests, was close to starting in Christchurch. Hansen, however, felt he owed it to Wyatt Crockett to start him instead following the Crusaders' prop's impressive effort in Auckland in which he battled well against a French scrum determined to make life difficult for the All Blacks.

Woodcock has been almost an ever-present in the black No 1 jersey since making his debut against Wales in Cardiff in 2002. His consistency has been one of his main attributes, which is why it has been so unusual to see him struggling for both form and fitness this year.

"I've had a couple of niggles this year, really minor ones," Woodcock said. "I'm not really worried about it. It probably comes from a bit of travel and a bit of back tightness.

"It's been different. Like Steve said, it is good to get good momentum and game time under your belt and slowly build."

Woodcock said he was enjoying his time at the Highlanders and his family was happy in Dunedin.

With tighthead prop Nicolas Mas bringing up his 50th test milestone for France after sitting out last week's international, Woodcock could be getting his game time against a quality player.

"It will be a better scrum with him there," he said. "But in saying that, he's been out for two months and could be a bit under-done and not quite at his best."

Under-done, not at his best? That sounds familiar. "I don't feel under-done but the reality is I probably am. Two weeks out for a front-rower is significant so it will be good to get back and into some game time."

A change in luck could help, too.

Tony Woodcock

Age: 32

Tests: 96

Test debut: 2002 v Wales in Cardiff

Test tries: 9, including a rather precious one in 2011 World Cup final

- APNZ

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