England desperate for Flood rescue but he's staying cool

Six Nations can wait as Leicester's No 10 focuses on today's Heineken Cup tie
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The Independent Online

When a club or international side is not playing well, the stock of players not in the team, whether because of injury or because they are simply out of favour, often rises accordingly. "I've already seen it happen often enough to understand how it works," shrugs Toby Flood. "It still makes me smile though.

Somebody gets injured and drops out of the picture for a few months, for one reason or another things aren't going well on the field, and despite not having played, or maybe even trained, he's someone who might make a difference."

Thank you and goodnight, because as a summary of the situation pertaining to Flood and England's misfiring team, some might suggest his description could hardly be bettered. If England's critics had seen the two games Flood has played for Leicester since returning from the six month lay-off that resulted from his rupturing an achilles tendon in the Tigers' Heineken Cup semi-final win over Cardiff Blues last May, they might feel justified in their assumption.

In the first, against Leeds, Leicester scored five tries, the same number they had scored in their previous eight Premiership games put together. Flood, standing flat at stand-off, instinctively playing on the gain line instead of standing back and hoofing the ball, was unquestionably the game's most influential player.

In the second, against Wasps, when conditions underfoot were difficult and possession wasn't as readily available, his goal-kicking kept Leicester in touch. There was also an early long-distance break to savour, a reminder of his willingness to take on defences. The result is that even at this almost ridiculously early stage in his comeback, many hope Flood, who wore the No 10 shirt in England's last three Six Nations matches, will resume the position when the 2010 tournament kicks off against Wales in February.

Unsurprisingly, the man himself is not inclined to look further than resuming his acquaintance with the Heineken Cup in Leicester's match at Clermont-Auvergne later today.

"I think a first serious injury is a big learning process when you're playing sport for a living, and one of the biggest lessons is not to look too far ahead," says Flood, a little wryly. "Before then you feel almost bullet-proof, injuries are things that happen to other people. But it happened out of nothing. I thought I'd been kicked, but nobody was near me. The pitch gave a bit, and that was it, one of those things."

He admits he has done a lot of thinking, especially during the initial two months spent in plaster. "You can only work on your upper-body strength so many times a day, and I've made enquiries about picking up where I left off after getting my degree [in business management from Northumbria University]. I'm looking at doing a Masters, or perhaps a law conversion course.

"But it also left me even more convinced I'd done the right thing in moving to Leicester. The guys and the club itself have been fantastic, making sure I was still part of things, not on the periphery. I'd been at Newcastle a long time, but while it might sound strange, I never felt comfortable there, and when circumstances arose that made it difficult to stay [the sacking of the director of rugby and former academy coach ,John Fletcher], I knew it was right to make the change."

At the same time he readily acknowledges the influence of Jonny Wilkinson and Rob Andrew as he progressed through the Falcons' academy and first team to international honours.

"As a 10 I couldn't ask for more than working with two of the greatest 10s in English rugby. Matt Burke was another strong character who always made time to talk to you. To play alongside people like Jonny and Matt, and Jamie Noon and Mark Mayerhofler, was awesome.

"You listen and learn, but in the end you develop by shaping your own game, your own skills and technique. I love playing in a position to have an impact on a game, because you have so much more possession than other players, but your forwards need to win the battle for you to have any involvement.

"England versus New Zealand was billed as Jonny versus Dan Carter, but if their respective packs weren't winning them any ball, there wouldn't have been much either of them could do to direct the flow of the game. There's a lot of truth in the saying that forwards win you the game, and backs how much you win it by."

Flood admits to being surprised at the criticism levelled at England during and after the Autumn internationals. "People need to accept there have to be periods of rebuilding, and also that there have been a huge amount of injuries. In terms of fluidity, new guys need time and especially games, because they're still in a learning phase, and people need to understand that."

So there shouldn't be any changes for the Six Nations? "There's a lot of rugby to be played before then. People will go in and out of form, pick up injuries and get fit. My only aim, honestly, is to be fit and playing well for Leicester. After being out for so long, anything else will be a bonus."