Johnson urges Flood to take chance

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The Independent Online

Toby Flood hopped back on England's fly-half merry-go-round today after replacing Andy Goode in the team to face Ireland at Croke Park on Saturday evening.

Flood's inclusion is the only change made by Martin Johnson to the starting XV beaten 23-15 in Wales two weekends ago, although scrum-half Danny Care has recovered from an ankle injury to replace Paul Hodgson on the bench.

England have changed their starting fly-half seven times and used five different players in 10 Test matches, dating back to when Jonny Wilkinson was the incumbant during the 2008 RBS 6 Nations.

At times the England number 10 jersey may as well have been wrapped in layers of brown paper and used in a game of pass the parcel.

Since Danny Cipriani displaced Jonny Wilkinson at the end of last year's championship, the Wasps fly-half has started four times, Goode and Flood twice and Charlie Hodgson once.

Johnson enjoyed the most successful years of his international career with Wilkinson cemented as England's fly-half and he is anxious for one of his candidates to keep hold of the jersey.

"You want players to nail down the position. We need a core of players who when we pick the side are consistent in international rugby," said Johnson.

"There are a few positions which have been chopped and changed for various reasons and this is Toby's opportunity to take hold of it with a good performance.

"Toby's kicking game has been very good when he has come on, his defence has improved as has his grasp of what we are trying to do in attack and his distribution has been good.

"We have seen a bit more composure from him this season. This is a chance for Toby to come in and get a start.

"I thought he did well when he started there against the All Blacks (in November) and this is an opportunity to nail down the position."

Flood has been around the England set-up for more than two years and has won 23 caps, but only 11 of those have been in the starting XV, with just four at fly-half.

He was unavailable for England's opening game after suffering a calf injury but came off the bench in Cardiff to replace Goode, who had been sin-binned early in the second half.

Flood believes his game has benefited greatly from his summer move to Leicester, where he replaced Goode and has been playing regular Heineken Cup rugby for the first time in his career.

"Being in the Leicester environment is a tough one. You have to mature quickly and there is not really much room for a mistake," said Flood.

"Leicester play in a lot of high-profile games. I have enjoyed my time there and being in that environment at the club has allowed me to improve my game.

"You want to be putting your hand up for England and cementing your position in the team.

"Jonny achieved a lot in his career - Grand Slams and World Cups - and England played in a fashion which allowed the players to express themselves.

"We are striving for that now, to challenge ourselves and challenge each other in the way we perform.

"This team has a great deal of potential and it is about putting in performances like we did against Wales, but to come out on the right side of the scoreline."

Flood missed a key penalty late in the defeat to Wales which would have hauled England back to within five points with seven minutes still remaining.

England's performance improved markedly from their laboured opening victory over Italy and despite the result there were encouraging signs that Johnson's regime is beginning to make progress.

But Ireland in Croke Park will be a major test of England's mettle. Two years ago the match was coated in historical significance which seemed to galvanise the Irish, who romped to a record 43-13 victory.

Only four members of the starting England team remain from that day - Joe Worsley, Phil Vickery, Harry Ellis and Mike Tindall - and Ireland will again offer a ferocious challenge.

The Irish seem rejuvenated under Declan Kidney and after two straight victories they are once again eyeing that elusive Six Nations title and a Grand Slam.

"If you play well and execute your game-plan, you will win the game," said Johnson.

"The first 20 minutes is important. We had a bad start to both halves in Cardiff and we need to turn that around. If we went 9-0 up instead of 9-0 down it would be a happier place to be."

Discipline has been a major issue for England in recent weeks - they have received eight yellow cards in three Tests - and Johnson expects Ireland's powerful pack to challenge their composure.

"Ireland are not one dimensional but they are very happy to take the physical challenge to you. We have be strong to stop them building any momentum there without giving away penalties," said Johnson.

Dylan Hartley did not train today as he attempts to recover from a calf injury but England expect him to be fit to take his place on the bench.