'It's Vital We Make a Statement and Show the Belief in Our Side'; Toby Flood Has Grown into Pivotal Fly-Half Role with England and Says Tomorrow's Grand Slam Showdown Gives His Side a Chance to Prove They Have Come of Age; EXCLUSIVE
Byline: Chris Jones Rugby Correspondent
IN Toby Flood's world, England should never lose at Twickenham and that is the mindset he is taking into tomorrow's crucial clash with France.
Given that Flood delivers this mission statement without emotion, it is easy to miss the determination that now underpins a career that has seen him usurp Jonny Wilkinson, his one-time mentor, as England's tactical fulcrum.
Flood doesn't raise his voice off the pitch because, at heart, he is a calm and engaging character, but give him that famous No10 jersey and he is transformed; barking orders to players vastly more experienced at Test level and relishing the responsibility that comes with the position.
Turning Twickenham back into the fortress it was under the 2003 World Cup winners -- they stayed unbeaten at HQ between 1999 and 2004 -- is a major challenge given that England have not managed three home wins in a row since the Championship two years ago.
"We should never lose at home no matter who we are playing," said Flood. "We should have a really proud record at Twickenham and after this match only one of the teams will be able to win the Grand Slam. This match is a real marker because we are going to have to show that we truly believe in what we are trying to do as a team.
"I enjoy being part of something that allows us to enjoy ourselves and have a real crack at opposition teams. Twelve months ago we could have beaten France but they won 12-10 and the Grand Slam and were the best team in the Six Nations by a mile."
In yesterday's Standard, full-back Ben Foden said that match in Paris proved a turning point for the squad as they displayed a more attacking approach.
Flood agrees with his team-mate's sentiments. "We didn't have any pressure that night and really had a crack at them and maybe that match opened people's eyes to the idea we could play like that in every game," he said. "For me, it really is a case of the more I play like I do at Leicester when I am wearing the England jersey shows how comfortable I am feeling.
"I have taken my club confidence into the Test arena when before, particularly when I was at Newcastle, it was more a case of maybe I should change now that I am playing for England. However, no one is getting carried away because there is still a huge amount we can do as a team."
While Wilkinson is not at the pipe and slippers stage of his injury-plagued career, the 31-year-old World Cup-winning hero knows that his role as Flood's understudy is just the latest challenge he faces. Having first met Flood when he was sent to the Leicester fly-half's school to mentor players seven years ago by Newcastle, he has seen the complete blossoming of a talent that appeared, at one stage, to be falling between positions. Flood, who joined the Tigers in 2008, can play inside-centre and outside-half and during the early days of his career he appeared unsuited to both as he lacked the physical stature to shore up the midfield defence and his long limbs made him a slow kicker out of the hand.
Now, he is stronger in the tackle and has speeded up the mechanics of his game to eliminate the threat of being charged down.
The kicking side of Flood's game will always be compared to Wilkinson and, in purely statistical terms, the 25-yearold has a lot of catching up to do.
Flood has 169 points from 37 Tests while Wilkinson already had 576 from the same number of England appearances, going on to amass 1120 points from 82 games for his country.
However, Flood has some pretty impressive figures of his own. He has a 100 per cent record with his 11 kicks at goal in this Six Nations and the last one he missed was in the second half against Samoa in November.
The week before that match his kicking was flawless against Australia with his seven penalties and two conversions earning 25 points, the highest total by anyone in the 40-match history of the fixture. …