Flutey ready to be centre of attention - International - Rugby Union - The Independent

Flutey ready to be centre of attention

Kiwi should return for Six Nations after injury but compatriot stands in his way

The burning question for Martin Johnson of what to do about Toby and Jonny does not bother Riki Flutey. The New Zealander convert to England's cause says he is happy to be the inside-centre alongside either one of Messrs Flood and Wilkinson at fly-half; more than keen to do so, in fact, after 10 months of international inactivity brought on by injury and influenza.

The baleful injury rate of modern Test players makes it almost certain the XV sketched out in the England manager Johnson's mind is hardly ever the one that makes it on to the field. This is what explains the addition of Charlie Hodgson to the squad for the Six Nations' Championship announced last Wednesday.

Whereas this time last year only Flood and Wilkinson were included as out-and-out outside-halves, England say they want three "generals" acquainted with every move and nuance of the play-book. With the World Cup coming up in September, they are, apparently, mindful of the All Blacks' experience last time out at France 2007. Dan Carter started the quarter-final with a calf injury; his replacement Nick Evans was undercooked, then also injured, and the final 20 minutes of the dream-shattering defeat to France in Cardiff was crying out for calm decisions.

All the above being true in theory, the likely practice is that one fly-half will start at least the majority – if not all – of England's remaining eight matches before the World Cup. It raises the intriguing and psychologically fascinating possibility that England's golden boy of 2003 might spend 2011 awaiting his chance on the bench. Not a bad back-up to have, but how would Wilkinson feel about it? He played the understudy three times to Flood last year – in France and Australia – but the choice did not occur when he pulled out of the autumn series with a shoulder problem that required four weeks' rest. Last Wednesday, in reply to questions over the 31-year-old Wilkinson extending his contract in France, Johnson said: "I am just happy that he's fit and I'm looking forward to him coming in."

England's intent to play wide when it suits places emphasis on a smooth-running midfield. The coaches' statistics from the autumn Tests show England making more line breaks than their Tri-Nations opponents, though two matches were 10-point defeats and only six tries were scored in four matches. The defensive organisation of Mike Tindall at outside-centre is much valued, even if his passing in tight spots sometimes fails him. The preference for size in that position was emphasised by the 6ft 7in Matt Banahan playing against Samoa when Tindall was rested.

Flutey's flu, which confined him to bed for a fortnight and saw him lose "a few kgs", followed on from an early-season calf injury that allowed his fellow Kiwi, the Bath centre Shontayne Hape, to retain the No 12 jersey he had worn on England's summer tour. Flutey scores over Hape in his kicking ability (Flutey has been a some-time scrum-half, fly-half and full-back; Hape hardly kicks at all). Both are hefty in the upper body and reliable in retaining possession in the tackle. Indisputably Flutey gives more options as a playmaker.

"We're brothers, yeah, we're brothers," said Flutey of his compatriot. "No, I never thought two Kiwis would be going for an England place – no one did. I thought Shontayne played really well in the autumn internationals and that's good for me from a mental point of view. It makes me want to get out there and compete. If I was selected against Wales I would be 100 per cent confident that I can play to the team's pattern and show everyone how I can play."

There has been many a fringe candidate at No 12 – Shane Geraghty, Jordan Turner-Hall, Dom Waldouck, Anthony Allen, Brad Barritt, Flood and Wilkinson among them – but only Flutey and Hape have had Johnson's prolonged vote. Flutey was picked for the 2010 opener against Wales but pulled out with a thigh problem. He started the other Six Nations matches: three with Wilkinson and one – most effectively in terms of launching the outside backs – with Flood in Paris. The previous season ended with Flutey picked for the Lions' tour to South Africa. In England's 34-10 thrashing of France at Twickenham in March 2009 he scored two tries and combined with Flood to bring Delon Armitage into play from full-back; the kind of all-court rugby that England always crave. But that Lions trip ended with Flutey needing shoulder surgery and led to a frustrating stop-start season with Brive before returning last summer to Wasps.

He is putting in 15 minutes' extra fitness work after training sessions. Wasps' Heineken Cup matches against Glasgow today and Toulouse next Sunday should sharpen him further before England's warm-weather trip to Portugal. As Hape put it last week: "Riki offers a lot and he's been there and played in this [Six Nations] competition before, whereas I haven't."

How about that fly-half conundrum? Flood of Leicester, the incumbent, has his nose in front for Wales on 5 February. In what are clearly his twilight years Wilkinson is described anecdotally by other England players as a withdrawn character in the camp, though much admired. Flutey likes to borrow his guitar for a strum when they are hotel mates; Hape, the former rugby league wing, is more of a hip-hop fan as a part-time DJ.

"Toby is a big boy, he loves attacking the lines and taking defenders on," said Flutey. "If defenders are worrying about him there could possibly be opportunities for me. He's got a good kicking game, a good offloading game. With Jonny we'll always be on the same page, planning throughout the week. Tactically he's a fantastic player, and he loves contact as well.

"I know what pressures the No 10s have on them. Whoever I'm playing with, I'll try and take some of that pressure off them."

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week