Toby Flood: When I was picked to start at No 10, Jonny came straight over to congratulate me
Six Nations Notebook
Friday 19 March 2010
It was on Tuesday that I found out I was going to start in the game against France. Brian Smith, our attack coach, caught me as we were walking off after morning training, thinking about lunch. "The coaches' meeting is this afternoon," he said. "But look, you're in."
It won't be surprising that being picked to start at No 10 for England felt good. It's strange though – when you are there, in the squad, you are already so much a part of the set-up that you just get your head round it and start preparing for the game. Of course I am pleased, really happy – everyone wants to start – but after training I didn't ring anyone to tell them I was in or anything like that. It's not my first cap – I guess it's just part of the process now.
People talk about the pressure, coming in to play in a certain position, but as a player it feels very different. You just get on with it. Maybe one day I will look back and think "That was it", but right now it's just about playing. These are the best times of our lives as players and you live for the moment. Nothing waits for you in sport.
As for the man I replaced, I have known Jonny Wilkinson for years. I made my first start for the Falcons at 19 but way before then, when I was coming through the age groups at Newcastle, he was there, the man in the 10 shirt. He was always a great guy to have around, a guy whose brain you were always trying to pick. He has helped me a huge amount. He's good company too. In short, a good mate. After I found out I was in the side he walked over and congratulated me. "If you need anything," he said, "give me a shout." That is the sort of character he is.
We have been in camp for eight weeks. Whether you have been on the bench or in the XV you know what is going on so there is no learning curve. It will be my normal preparations, same as whether I'm playing for Leicester Tigers or England.
I have really enjoyed playing at No 12, but 10 is where I have played most of my rugby; it is the position I prefer. I have done my knowledge there.
Murrayfield felt like a defeat
After the draw with Scotland, we had Monday off. I went down to Newcas tle from Edinburgh on Sunday to spend some time with my parents. Then on Monday night it was back to camp in Pennyhill for the final week.
We were disappointed after Murrayfield. In the Guinness Premiership there are times when a tough away draw can seem a decent result, but not in the RBS Six Nations. One point doesn't seem like anything; a dead event. In a way it feels like a defeat. Not a drubbing, but none of that satisfaction you get from a win. There was frustration as well that we could not impose ourselves on the game as the Scots harried, harassed and frustrated us.
I was down. It hurt. That drop-goal – it came off my boot pretty well, but was charged down. Jonno didn't say much afterwards. But then he never does. He is not the arms-waving sort of guy. More has been said this week and we have had a few really positive meetings about where we want to be. Pretty much everyone has had their say – not only management, but the players too which underlines the on-going dialogue we have. As a player you do not want to be talked to all the time and we are given our chance to have a say. At this level most guys have strong opinions about the game and want to be heard. There is a lot of disappointment and above all plenty of frustration. It's often the little details we talk about, things we have to fine-tune; the breakdown, attacking down the fringes, using the blindside.
It has been a pretty hectic week. But we have not been flogged in training. At this level you are used to playing big game after big game whether for club or country. The difference with the Six Nations is that the spectacle of the occasion increases. But you get used to it, become acclimatised. After all, this is what we are bred to do.
There is no sense of a siege mentality around the squad. We are a tight-knit group and you do look inwards when you are part of a squad. Listening to a raft of different external opinions will not do anything to improve your performance. It can be detrimental to pay too much attention to what is going on outside your environment. Look after your own game – that is all you can do.
The pressure tomorrow has to all be on France; playing for a Grand Slam in front of your own crowd. There is a lot of confidence we can go there and spoil the party. We are desperate to get out there, in that fantastic stadium, and perform. This game is all we are looking at, not the summer Tests or the Rugby World Cup. If you are a player, it always has to be about the now, this game. It is the oldest of sporting clichés: one game at a time
We know the French will be tough – but we've beaten them before
This will put the curse us. There is plenty of knowledge within the squad about how to beat France. We won last year at Twickenham and the year before in Paris so there is a certain amount of confidence. The experience of beating them is something we can draw on tomorrow. France have a strong pack – but who doesn't at this level. The element of their game that has particularly impressed us this year is how aggressive they have been in defence.
Relishing Paris in the springtime
I have really good memories of Paris, winning there in 2008, the semi-finals of the World Cup. And some not so good ones: the World Cup final. The Stade de France is a spectacular venue. It is magnificent. I love that ground, it's such an exciting place to play. When you run out there in front of 80,000 people, when the whole ground is rocking like it will be tomorrow night, it sends shivers down your spine.
Hats off to a century of caps
Looking back over the last few weeks, Imanol Harinordoquy has had a good tournament. He has played really well and always looks dangerous. He will be a real threat tomorrow night.
But the two who have stood out for me have been Brian O'Driscoll and John Hayes. Not so much for what they have done this year in particular, but for the fact that they have both won 100 caps. To get that number given the wear and tear on the body imposed by top-level rugby is simply amazing. O'Driscoll has been world class for such a long time. You just have to take your hat off to them.
Toby Flood and The Independent are supporting RBS RugbyForce, the scheme that can help your club to improve its facilities. To register for the RBS RugbyForce weekend on 5-6 June, visit www.rbs6nations.com/rugbyforce
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