Flutey eyes Lions after sparking up England

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The Independent Online

It has been something of a slow burn but centre Riki Flutey is now starting to show the spark that made him an immediate selection for England once the Maori centre completed his three-year residency last year.

Flutey was voted the Premiership player's player of the year last season as Wasps won the championship and great things were expected when he was handed the number 12 shirt for England's four November internationals.

It did not quite work out, however, as he, along with everyone else in the side, struggled to impose himself when England were hammered by the Tri-Nations sides.

In the Six Nations, however, he has shown exactly why manager Martin Johnson threw him in, and kept him in, with a series of increasingly influential and exciting displays.

His bursts of acceleration, eye for the gap and balanced running have added a spark to England's midfield that has been missing since the retirement of World Cup winner Will Greenwood.

He also mirrored Greenwood's nose for the tryline when he scored two in last Sunday's 34-10 thrashing of France.

"In the autumn we were a group of guys who had just come together, we had new attacking and defensive plays to learn," Flutey told Reuters as he prepared for Saturday's Twickenham clash with Scotland.

"Last Sunday we executed our plans well and everyone understood their responsibility. Things are starting to come together right now and I feel I am becoming more confident and comfortable in my role."

Flutey set up Mark Cueto's opening try against France then finished off a superbly-crafted second.

Brought up as a proud Maori, Flutey was playing in front of full houses alongside the biggest names in New Zealand rugby and won the under-19 World Cup with the All Blacks.

However, when the chances of a full cap began to recede as he moved around the Wellington and Hurricanes backlines he decided in 2005 to uproot and move to England to play for London Irish. He moved to Wasps in 2004 and last month announced that he would move to French side Brive next season.

"I thought it was a big challenge moving from New Zealand to here, then another to move from London Irish to a star-studded Wasps team," he said.

"Now it's going to be another massive challenge at Brive."

Flutey, 29, said he had kept Johnson and England officials in the loop as soon as he started thinking about the French move and added he made sure his contract would not have a negative effect on his new-found international status.

That could be further enhanced, as another good show on Saturday could secure selection for the British & Irish Lions party to tour South Africa this year - and with it the rare honour of playing for and against the famous red shirts.

He faces stiff competition in the centre area, not least from Irish duo Brian O'Driscoll and Gordan D'Arcy and Wales trio Gavin Henson, Tom Shanklin and Jamie Roberts.

However, he does have the advantage of his Wasps coach Ian McGeechan leading the Lions.

"In 2005 I played against the Lions for Wellington and that was a fantastic occasion," he said.

"Every eligible player in the Six Nations I'm sure has the Lions tour in the back of their minds because it is the ultimate goal.

"But all I'm thinking about is playing consistently good rugby for England. If I can keep that up then hopefully other things will fall into place."