Since making his first team debut in the 2004/2005 season, Toby Flood, 21, has gone on to appear 30 times for the Newcastle Falcons, establishing himself as one of the most talented young players in the country.
England recognition naturally followed, with Flood helping his country to a Grand Slam in the Six Nations at Under 21 level and also featuring at fly half in the Under 21s World Cup.
Flood, also a Business Management student at Northumbria University, began his rugby playing days at the tender age of six, thanks mainly to the influence of his father.
“Really my first memories are of being taken out of the house by my Dad when I was a little kid because my Mum had had enough of me and just being shoved into Alnwick Under 8s at 6 years old,” he recalls.
“My dad used to coach there and I really just enjoyed playing all the games that were associated with rugby, British Bulldog, that sort of thing, and also the physical nature of it all as I was a bit of a headless kid when I was younger!”
Rugby at heart
Despite now being one of English rugby’s hottest prospects, it wasn’t always the oval-shaped ball that was the centre of Flood's attentions growing up, with the former Morpeth man defecting to football and also cricket, at which he even represented Northumberland.
“I played rugby until I was about 9 or 10 and then I moved on to football and I played football for a long time, and I really enjoyed that.
“But I moved back into rugby after not getting on with the football coach, which I suppose looking back was a really good thing, as I wouldn't be here now!”
Whilst there is the presence of a North-East accent when we talk, Flood was actually born in the small town of Frimley, in Surrey. He moved to the region not long after and is very much an adopted Geordie. And it is clear that he speaks with a sense of pride that he is now representing the team he grew up following.
“I’d come here since I was probably about 15 to watch a few games a season”, he says. “I really admired the players and everything about the club and it’s fantastic to now be involved with it.
“When you get the call from Fletch who was at the time Academy manager saying, 'look, we’re interested in you, would you like to come along for a few sessions' it’s fantastic. There’s nothing better than pulling on the shirt of the local team you’ve supported as a kid.”
And is it to John Fletcher, the newly installed Director of Rugby at the Falcons, who he is indebted. Having been under the guidance of Fletcher from an early age, the respect Flood has for the former Northampton and Newcastle Gosforth centre is evident.
“Fletch has brought me through which is great and he has been fantastic with me throughout", he tells me. “But in a sense nothings changed because he’s still got to make tough decisions in terms of selection.
|"There’s nothing better than pulling on the shirt of the local team you’ve supported as a kid."|
“Two years ago he might have picked me for the academy but now he might not pick me for the first team because there’s such strong competition.”
With Jonny Wilkinson one side of him, Jamie Noon the other and skipper Matt Burke behind him, Flood is surrounded by quality in the Newcastle team.
And the Frimley born youngster considers himself fortunate to be able to call upon the experience and wisdom of those around him.
“People like Jonny, Burkey and Noony - just to name a few - are fantastic, world class players,” Flood acknowledges. “You do pick up little things that they’ll say in a game and also in training that you can think through afterwards.
“If you can understand where they’re coming from and take what they have said on board, it helps you improve as a player, no doubt.”
Last season saw Flood move into the unfamiliar territory of fly half, as well as featuring in his more favoured position of inside centre.
But the highlight of his first team outings surely came in his man-of-the-match showing in the European quarter-final win over Connacht.
|Flood in action for England|
Carrying on where he left off last term, Flood has been one of the Falcon's top performers in the sides opening two games this season, winning particular acclaim for his showing in the opening day defeat at Northampton.
But despite such an impressive start to his career, he is fully aware of the size of the task facing him as he battles to retain his place in the Falcons side.
"You can’t rest on your laurels, it’s a really tough team to get into, and you have to look towards playing well when you do get a chance then being picked on merit after that,” he says.
“I want to be in contention for the first team, the match 22 for every game and to be honest I want to start every game, but of course whether that happens depends on both the coach and also how I play.
“I realise the only pressure I should be under is my own pressure to do well. But what I’m looking for is to play every game of the season. That’s my main goal.”