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."

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
Sport
Hamilton runs down the back straight in the rain
F1
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing