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Flood eyes leading role in England revival

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Tom Fordyce | 14:16 UK time, Monday, 5 November 2012

Toby Flood, you might think, relishes every single moment centre-stage.

It isn't just his occupation: England fly-half, he is almost certain to start in that most scrutinised and pivotal position in the forthcoming autumn internationals. It's his genealogy: both grandfathers noted film and television actors, maternal grandmother the same.

It's even spelled out on his passport. Flood's middle names are Gerald - after the paternal grandfather who starred in Dr Who, Steptoe and Son, and Patton - and Albert Lieven, his mother's father, who played the villainous Flashman's father in 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' and a whole range of Nazis in a number of war-time pot-boilers.

It's as if he were born for the spotlight. Except, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Toby Flood in action for England during the summer tour of South Africa.

Flood is the most experienced player in the England squad with 50 caps. Picture: Getty

"I've always disliked it," he says. "I've always hated the idea of having to go there and do things and always be on show.

"You're sometimes jealous of the guys like Chris Robshaw who can just go out there and keep their head down, work incredibly hard and come out knowing they've ticked all the boxes. You are sometimes jealous of that, because you shoulder so much responsibility."

By accident or design, Flood's performances over the next month of Saturdays will play a huge part in determining whether England's story has a happier ending than it often does at this time of year.

Forget winters of discontent. Autumn, for a generation of England stars, has been a season of misses and mellow fruitlessness.

In the nine years since the World Cup win of 2003, they have recorded only four wins at home over the old Tri-Nations teams. All three of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand will be striding onto the Twickenham stage again this month, with Fiji to open up this Saturday. The plot is due a change.

"This is [the equivalent of] coming into the quarter-finals of a World Cup and going all the way through to the final. You have to beat these sides. This has to be us setting down a mark," he insisted.

"Twickenham used to be a fortress - not many teams came here and won. That's shifted.

"You understand the difficulty of it, but you want a space that is ours, where it is very, very difficult for anyone to come here and beat us.

Those autumn struggles - and occasional rare triumphs - have defined Flood's own career. He made his international debut as a coltish 21-year-old in dismal defeat by Argentina six years ago. His finest display for his country, when he landed a record-breaking 25 points against Australia, came during the Wallabies' last visit to Twickenham two years ago.

Remarkably, at 27 years old, he is now the squad's most experienced player, his 50 caps setting him apart in coach Stuart Lancaster's young regime.

He is not necessarily the most settled. Flood has seldom been allowed to feel comfortable in the number 10 jersey. Of those 50 caps only 32 have been starts, the varied threats of injury, form and rivals meaning he has hokey-cokeyed with the best of them.

"It can be tough," he admits, thinking back to the period before the last World Cup when a 12-match run was ended by the sudden recall of his old mentor Jonny Wilkinson. "We had had success as a side - we went all the way to a Grand Slam game. It was the first time we had finished top of the Six Nations for years. It can be frustrating to deal with.

"The settled thing is an interesting point. Stu has made it an important point that no-one ever feels settled. Gone are the days two weeks out saying 'You're in the squad, this is how it's going to be, this is the line-up'.

"There's none of that now. Chris [Robshaw] doesn't find out that he's captain until the week before the first match. Stu has always made it as competitive, and as fearful for your place, as he can. There is that edge in training."

Is that always a good thing? Isn't a player worried about his place less likely to take risks, more likely to play safety-first rugby?

Flood nods. "That's the balance of what he's doing. He's making you fear for your spot, but when you pull the shirt on he wants you to go out there and play without fear. It's a clever balance."

Wilkinson might have departed for the warm sunshine and welcome of southern France, but the pretenders to his throne keep on queuing. Charlie Hodgson and Owen Farrell shared fly-half duties with success during the Six Nations; George Ford is pushing Flood hard at his club Leicester, while Gloucester's tyro Freddie Burns will train with England this week, to the delight of many in the west and beyond.

Does Flood find himself watching those rivals intently, whether in camp with England or on television highlights?

"No. I've never done that, not with Jonny or Charlie or anything. 'How many had he kicked? What's his passing been like?' Never.

"I'll do it for opposition 10s, so I know what I can attack on the pitch. But I don't ever want to do that with team-mates. You get in the horrible mind-set of chasing them. You have to manage your expectations of where you want to go - like Sean Fitzpatrick said, 'be the best you can be'."

Can that competition not act as a perfect sporting stimulus?

"I never want it to become a game of poker. I never want to see his hand and then reveal mine. The stimulus of competition is more through the training. We had a talk from Will Greenwood, and in the team's buddy-system, he was paired up with Mike Catt even when they were vying for the same spot, and it worked for them," explained Flood.

"It is hard, because it's relentless. But you have to accept it's natural. The closer you become to somebody, the more you want to be better than them. That's the beauty of it.

"Having an appreciation of how they're playing is a big difference to worrying about it. Understand it's your game that you control. I can't manage how Fordy's going to play."

Flood has now played through four different England regimes in his six years - Andy Robinson's, Brian Ashton's, Martin Johnson's and now Lancaster's, if we ignore Rob Andrew's two-match interregnum.

Does it make him, if not more cynical, a little more cautious about the brave new world that Lancaster is explicitly trying to create?

"I'm always cynical. No, I think you're less... you become a bit more single-minded. You have a way you want to prepare for a game, so when a new guy comes in you hold that close to your chest for the first couple of weeks.

"You study what they're trying to do, and over time your respect is created by how the team plays. Having been rolled through four managers does make you conscious of, how long is this guy going to be here, do we adhere to everything he wants? Because you never know.

"I've always tried to be as selfless as possible. If the team scores four or five tries and I'm not in any of them, then fantastic. When you're in the team environment in my position, you're trying to make everyone else look as fantastic as possible.

"The selfishness for me comes in when, like today, you train as a team and then I stay out and want to kick and go into my own space, my own environment. I work on my own little bits.

"That's my selfish part. I've got kicking to do, I've got Achilles extensions to do, I've got movement to do. That's when I can detach myself from the squad."

Of the 10 autumn internationals Flood has played, he has won just three. Only one of those victories, the thumping of Australia, came against a top-level side. It is not a statistic he will worry about as he walks out at Twickenham this Saturday.

"What you do as a player is say, this is my level. I sit there. I don't get up when I play well, I don't get down when I play badly.

"You're flat-lining. If you become too emotionally attached to what some people are saying, it just destroys you. It can tear you apart. So one thing I've learned is to take yourself away from it. Totally be honest with yourself and your peers and see how that drives you forward."

Albert Lieven once starred in a film called 'Loser Takes All'. Fifty six years later his grandson may prefer to dip into his grandmother's canon instead over the next four weekends. 'London Belongs To Me'? That would do rather nicely.


  • Comment number 1.

    Useless, might as well try something different and play burns. Flood has had his chances and hardly set the world alight

  • Comment number 2.

    Flood is an average club player. England have probably 3 better fly halfs then Flood.

  • Comment number 3.

    I thought Owen Farrell was the next Dan Carter but better? At least thats the way he was talked about. Surely he's has the number 10 spot for England nailed down. Cant imagine a better player then Dan Carter in the squad.

  • Comment number 4.

    With regards to Freddie Burns, I like the look of him but he's only been looking England class this season. I believe that a player should play a full top qality season for his club side before getting the England start, and then get a sustained run of at least 5 matches if he maintains club form.

    There will be lots of time for Burns.

  • Comment number 5.

    #2 - 3 better English fly-halves than Flood?! Can I have what you're taking.
    #1 - Behind average packs in poorly managed teams with no continuity of selection. The only time he was given a decent run in the team we won the 6N and the defeat in Dublin was becuase our pack got murdered, not due to Flood. As a reward for this Johnno dropped him for Wilko, who was at least 4 years past his sell by date and was woeful in the WC. Flood still deserves a proper chance at 10.

  • Comment number 6.

    Ahh posh boys! Play Burns. He went to a kinda comp! We won't though.

    The issue isn't the pack. Its that without a dominant pack, Flood can't add anything. He has no 'je ne sais quoi' and the opposition know it.

  • Comment number 7.

    Owen was over promoted and found out. Flood may not be the best in the world but there is no serious challenge to him in England.

  • Comment number 8.

    Floody - he seems alright but my goodness his written pieces in the Torygraph were dull as hell.

    He is on form, has some experience against the SH teams and is playing well.

    However, he also gets to play behind the best pack in the league which makes most half-decent 10s look good.

    More importantly whenever he has played against the top teams he has been the second best 10 on the pitch. Furthermore he doesn't create opportunities against the best teams - ever.

    He probably should be the starting 10 but we need to bring through some more threatening attacking options. Some of the swash buckle espoused by the blog author's previous partner in crime - Ben Dirs.

    I'd like to see Burns and Ford fast tracked and Cipriani rehabilitated - get some 10s who can really play to at least be on the bench.

    Unfortunately Andy Farrell will have other ideas on selection but I haven't heard any rugby fans of any team tell me Owen Farrell should be close to selection at 10 this season as he doesn't play there as first choice for Sarries and he can't pass well.

  • Comment number 9.

    Doesnt help his game that hes grown through a rugby philosophy with the national team where England have TRIED to play passing rugby but when things go tits up the full backs have reverted to kicking away possession and the scrum halves have relied on the pack to drag things forward. Good player in his own right still.

  • Comment number 10.

    Toby Flood is too predictable to play against for the top quality sides. He does not look confident kicking out of hand in open play. More cross field kicks to wingers etc may give him the variety his game needs

  • Comment number 11.

    Flood is world class when he is playing in a team on the front foot, as he has the ability to play very flat and off quick ball he is lethal. He has also massively improved his goal kicking this season. But there have always been question marks over his ability to control the game for 80 mins, he deserves his chance this autumn

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    Toby Flood is not world class. What of England's players currently are? Seriously. I want to know which of England's players would make a 'World XV'? England have better options than Flood yet he is rated highly enough to stay in the team. He's not a Wilkinson and certainly not a Carter. He's at an age where he won't learn anything new so why not move on and try some of the younger guns?

  • Comment number 14.

    Ok, so Tigers fan here, so take my view however you wish.

    Floody's had a good season thus far at Leicester, Farrell hasn't been playing at 10 for Sarries and Burns has no England caps (yet, they WILL come though) so who would realistically start the Autumn series at 10? Flood's done nothing to warrant being dropped and the other 2 contenders for the spot either lack the experience or aren't playing the position regularly...Seems to me that the coaches are going to go with the only realistic option at this point in time.

    I'm still more intrigued about the centers than 10, and I'm ecstatic the 12trees has been brought in as cover...because personally I think he's the real deal in the middle. He can kick, pass, run and tackle...3 of these are things Barritt can't/doesn't it'll be interesting to see what opportunities Billy gets in this environment! He'll be good foil for Tuilagi! I'm a bit disappointed that JSD has been over-looked though...although, saying that, he'd probably drop the phone on his foot and break something as soon as he hangs up knowing his luck when it comes to England selection...

    Anyways; I'm excited about this series! Go for it boys!

  • Comment number 15.

    Surely it's flood to start, if he does well then stick with him unless they start coming back at you a bit in which case maybe consider shutting-up shop with Farrell on to close the game down ( I don't buy that it's just down to his dad's influence and media hype, you can tell that boy grew up watching Wilkinson and he's young so who knows how good he could get )

    If Flood struggles then Cipriani or Burns to come on and change things are great options to have, either has the potential to be much better than TF and add another level to the teams overall performance, but it's obviously too early for either to start for England, you'd need to see a much longer period of consistency from Cipriani and can't just throw Burns on from the start with no experience.

  • Comment number 16.

    Flood will start, he is about the best of the available bunch and I also think he gets more stick than he should. Burns needs game time in the England squad but I would like to see him given a chance - has has been on very good form and merits a few games

    I think we have more of a problem in the centres, whilst Tuilagi is undoubtedly quick and strong he isn't the most inventive of players and without a good playmaker on the inside I don't see much of a spark being created - but who is the question? I like Barritt for his tackling and work rate and he gives everything in a game but he's not in the same class as Will Greenwood; who in my humble opinion was one of our best centres

    Farrell needs more time, he's still very young and you can tell he has a good work ethic. I think he can become a much better player. I really think if we want to upset teams and change our game plan then we need someone like Cipriani in the side - I know he's not popular but he's also unpredictable on the field, and if there's one thing you can guarantee about England it's predictability! There is also a flash of something to his game, he makes oppositions wary and that leads to doubt in defence, I reckon he deserves another shot. Geech saw something in him and that should be enough in my book anyway!

  • Comment number 17.

    Why on earth are people suggesting Cipriani? Have you lot seen him play so far this year? Woeful doesn't do it justice!

    Flood is solid, and can ask for nothing more at this stage (especially against the Tri-Nations teams), however I'd have liked to see Burns be given a run-out at some point. He's been playing great for Glaws so far this year, however the only negative I'd have against him is that his kicking from hand can be erratic at times.

    Feeling fairly positive about these AI's, I think we'll win at least 2 of them. Won't be pretty though...

  • Comment number 18.

    Please people come to your senses. The other 10s seem to lack a tackle. Flood can defend and against good teams he defends like JW did. Thea autumn internationals will be 'in your face rugby' the southern hemisphere plays that way. He knows the pressure situation, Freddy burns has never been there, nor Fordy. He's had his bad days in the england jersey and is still willing to stand up. He's not had the best run, he is no Dan Carter, but he can control the game. Who would have thought Charlie Hodgson would help england win 2, 6 nations games, he plays flat and has poor kicking skills out of hand. Rugby is a team game. A great team can make a 10 look great. A poor team can make a 10 look hopeless.

  • Comment number 19.

    Sifting through these rather similar comments and taking just one, pretty much at random:

    "Its that without a dominant pack, Flood can't add anything. He has no 'je ne sais quoi' and the opposition know it."

    That, my friend, is a comment you could apply to any fly-half in the world, including Dan Carter. The only 10's I've ever seen shine behind a poor pack are Jonathan Davies and Carlos Spencer, both players who were rather special - and playing in a different era. Since then, nothing. Doesn't mean Flood is a poor player as everyone here seems to be suggesting.

    Agree with comment 14 - the issue is not fly-half, it's the centres. Surely Lancaster is the only person in England (and the world) who thinks Barritt is a good player. Get Twelvetrees on the pitch! Or at least Allen.

  • Comment number 20.

    @17 not sure what you've been watching this season. I'm not suggesting for a second that Cipriani is ready for another England call-up, there are still a few areas that need improvement, mainly defensively, but by no means has he been dire this season. He's providing a genuine attacking threat and put in a MoM performance with just 30 mins against Cardiff.

    For me I would be happy to see Flood start but would be nice to see Burns get some exposure, maybe against Fiji. I would also take Twelvetrees at 12 over any of the other candidates, could do some real damage with Tuilagi outside him.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'd keep Flood in as he has picked up his form well after his injury break and although I'm a big fan of burns I think he could really benefit from some time in and around the England setup as Lancaster has suggested to get to know and be comfortable in the environment. Doesn't need too much time though and i'd definately try and get him some exposure before the autumn is out as he is really playing well at gloucester this season.

    Unfortunately I don't think Farrell deserves the second 10 badge as he simply hasn't performed for quite some time now and although he is our best place kicker his hands and passing ability are not where they should be either for club or country. Burns has a much more rounded game and is a serious threat on the gameline and therefore, for me, overtaken Farrell.

    Just on a side note is JSD not being considered because he's just turned 30? I really hope this isn't the case and they simply forgot to pick him as he is still the best winger we've got and has been for a over a decade! I know he has had his fair share of injuries but the guy is sheer class and has the most rounded game of any winger in world rugby right now. People say if he'd been born Welsh he'd have been lauded as one of their greats. I'd argue that this would have been the case if he'd been born a kiwi.

  • Comment number 22.

    What has happened Farrell? I think he is another Ciparani...built up to be great by his own media when in fact he is at best average. Flood at least is consistant. He may not be flash but he is solid.

  • Comment number 23.

    Will, I always thought that JSD would make a really good international full back (though only bad luck has denied him 40-50 caps on the wing).

    As for the Flood thing, I've seen Dan Carter's name mentioned way too many times here, we don't have a Dan Carter and neither does anybody else including New Zealand when he retires, Cruden's good but not as.

    We need our 10 to be the best we have the best player that he can be, not a Carter and not a Johnny Wilkinson.

  • Comment number 24.

    Flood is probably the most underated player in England. He's just not fashionable for some reason.

    People forget that the only time he has been given a decent run at fly half that England have played their best attacking rugby for the last decade (Autumn internationals 2010 and Six nations 2011, bar the Ireland game).

    Re: any England players making a world XV, I think that Dan Cole is probably pushing it pretty close right now.

  • Comment number 25.

    Agree Mike, Cole is a solid prop and a great player around the park now. If Lawes gets a good injury free run I think he 'could' prove to have the talent too.

  • Comment number 26.

    England certainly wouldn't have many players picked for a world 15 at the moment; indeed I've read a fair few opinions saying they won't have many players in the Lions either. Guess the good thing at the moment is that these players are actually complimenting each other and producing some decent results. 1st and 2nd in the last 2 6 Nations and pushed Wales to the limit during the last tournament.

    I would prefer Burns to start to see what he can do but at the moment I have a strange feeling which i believe is actually trust in an England manager.

  • Comment number 27.

    Lawes is another player who we all thought and still think will be a great player...but he has yet to show the consistency top players show. Sure he has had a lot of injuries but thats no excuse. He needs to really step up his game if he wants to make the Lions. Which I think he will because of the lack of competition in the second rows but he is far from world class.

  • Comment number 28.

    Acadamy, please don't buy into this BBC orientated nonsense that all of the best northern hemesphere players are Welsh and Irish. Ireland play one good game in 5 and the Irish teams do well in Europe because of the compression of all of their talent and money into 3 clubs.

    Wales had a good run of form for about 6 months a year ago which included a World cup where they lost 3 out of 7 matches, woopty doo.

  • Comment number 29.

    Gm, I didn't say that I think all the best players are Welsh or Irish but to be fair they do have a lot of good players at the moment. If the Lions were being picked now I think there would be a good spread. i think you're doing Wales a bit of a dis service as they've been up there with England as the best sides for the last couple of seasons and I expect that to be the same come the new year.

  • Comment number 30.

    Unfortunately England just dont have any world class players at the moment apart from the Samoan guy who plays center. If the Lions was picked now I think England would struggle to have 2 players make the first test team. Rugby in England is at an all time low right now with the clubs not performing in Europe and the international team looking like a barbarians team...but I think England will come good in the next 2-3 years in time for the WC.

  • Comment number 31.

    Academy, GM. I know we are going a bit off topic but I can't resist when it comes to the Lions! I would certainly take a large pool from each of England, Ireland and Wales to Australia. Scotland - certainly Gray and Denton and possibly Rennie (although the back row is going to be seriously competitive) and Ford.

    In terms of English contingent I would argue that if we are picking a squad to leave tomorrow (I am for arguments sake!) I would consider taking a number of non test playing players: Easter, D. Armitage, Simpson Daniel, maybe even Sheridan as he's keeping a seriously good Welshman in Gethin Jenkins out of the Toulon side.

    In the end whoever gets on that plane i think this is going to be the most competitive lions squad (apart from at 10) since the last time we were down under.

  • Comment number 32.

    Well James, Here again. Isn't Wales best player that Tongan who plays at number 8 although I think that the Welsh guy who plays for England is and will be better.

    I think that England will contribute more than 2 players to a Lions test squad and Scotland will contribute small but high quality to the pack.

    What we will see here is a lot of Welsh fans defaulting to their own teams player because they don't know who the rivals are from the other home nations.

  • Comment number 33.

    Jamesmathew id argue if you were picking the squad today then a lot of englidhmen would have to be considered for the 1st team.

    Please tell me who you'd pick over and above the following Englishmen.

    Robshaw (at 6) Lydiate and Ferris are injured
    D. Armitage (a couple of Welshman might have a say but he is playing out of his skin at the moment)
    Youngs or Care (both Englishmen are playing extremely well for their respective clubs)
    Brown (if halfpenny is not picked as the kicker)

    Slightly left field but with no number 10s standing out currently how about Charlie Hodgson to run the Aussies raged. He is arguably playing the best rugby of his career right now.

  • Comment number 34.

    Forgot to mention that A. Jones is out injured at tight head and Ron Kearney at full back also.

  • Comment number 35.

    Ron is Rob's slightly better younger brother by the way!?!?!

  • Comment number 36.

    @Will123bay - Firstly I actually think there will be much more then 2 players from England on the first test team but if it was picked now Id struggle to pick more then 2.

    Secondly its pointless to pick the team now...but come Lions tour Brown wont even be on the squad, neither will Armitage, Youngs and Robshaw will be lucky to make it.

    Hartey, Cole and Tuilagi should def make the squad and possibly the test team.

    I do think the majority of players will be form Wales because I believe Wales will win the GSlam and when playing well are the best team in the NH.

  • Comment number 37.

    36: The reason i said if it was picked now is because if it was next year there's too many variables. People could get injured, lose form, not get picked in the first place. I personally think the majority will be from Wales because Gatland knows them but he may well surprise me.

    I know you do these posts to somehow wind people up but they're too obvious to actually bother most people and just make you look silly.

  • Comment number 38.

    Well if Farrell could kick from hand, and pass, he would have played league. Read also Stephen Myler. Realised they could make a better living just kicking for goal in Union. Should have chosen NFL instead -)

    Only playing. I'll be tuning into the AI's for the atmosphere of your International game. Fingers crossed for a try or 2

  • Comment number 39.

    A lot of people saying about how England have no players in a world XV. Better question to ask is would any NH players get into the NZ side and improve it? Possibly a scrum half but that's about it.

    JSD heard there was an England fixtures coming up so got injured this weekend, wouldn't be surprised though for a Lions call up.

    Lions team are always random, but at the moment, its only the French who have really set alight the HCup which is the only means of comparing players at the moment till the 6nations.

  • Comment number 40.

    I hope no England players go on the Lions tour. It'll be another laughable shambles just like the previous tours in the modern era with the Lions probably getting whitewashed. The fewer England players associated with that shower the better.

    England need to go on a tour and continue to gel and form partnerships. That's what's important.

    The Lions is just a rugby sideshow.

  • Comment number 41.

    Perhaps it’s because he looks like someone who was bullied at school, but Flood is criminally underrated by most England fans. Injuries aside, his level and consistency of performance over the last 2 or 3 seasons puts him head and shoulders above the other contenders. And you lot seem to forget his hand in resurgent England performances in the autumn of 2010 and the 6N’s of 2011 – if Johnno hadn’t bottled-it and pulled the rug from under Flood in favour of JW and a conservative gameplan for the 2011 WC then who knows where English rugby would be today.

    He just seems to be one of those players who isn’t a favourite with fans for no particular reason – how people can question Flood yet tout Cipriani is beyond me. I reckon Flood will push Sexton very hard for the Lions starting 10 jersey next year...

  • Comment number 42.

    Although the competition isn't great, Flood is currently the best FH in the NH. A definite 1st choice for England (for the moment) and the Lions.

  • Comment number 43.

    I don't think jamesmathews actually knows anything about rugby.

    I don't get the negativity towards Flood. He is best our choice 10, Burns is playing well but where was he last season?

    As for the Lions I don't think Garland will rely too heavily on the Welsh just because he knows them. He once criticized Johnno for wasting English talent. Here's his chance to use some of that.


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