Why Flood stepping aside is a cause for concern

Certain moments in rugby matches simply do not feel right. Perhaps it was the scruffy nature of Geordan Murphy’s winning drop-goal, but as the players wheeled away to celebrate, the mind was already turning to Toby Flood, and questioning why when as the team’s kicker and 20 metres out from the posts, his captain had felt the need to step in.

There is a danger of over-analysing certain incidents, but Sunday afternoon’s falls outside that category. Having driven through the Saracens half through multiple energy-sapping phases, 26 being the count by the time Murphy struck, Flood had been in position in the pocket for over half of those. Starting from an albeit difficult 40 metres away from the posts, a series of drives surged Leicester into the Saracens 22, and into a central position.

A lack of communication between Flood and his scrum-half James Grindal saw him waiting seemingly for an eternity. Yet with Leicester now camped five metres from the posts and dead centre, Murphy ran over to diffuse the situation, moving Flood to his right, before finishing the job.

The ball goes through, Leicester celebrate and Saracens are devastated. Yet all eyes are on Flood. In the scenario that is made for a side’s fly-half to step up, much like a field goal kicker in the NFL, Flood failed to take responsibility. The occasion may not have been on the same level as Joel Stransky’s or Jonny Wilkinson’s moments of glory, but as the side’s kicker and number 10 that is the job he is paid to do.

One potential argument is that having recently returned from a knee injury, Flood’s lack of game time contributed to him being unable to perform in a pressure situation. Except that by the time the drop goal opportunity presented itself in injury time, Flood had played 160 minutes of Premiership Rugby since his comeback. On top of that, a poor performance against Exeter aside, he had struck the ball sweetly all afternoon at Vicarage Road, missing only two shots at goal from difficult angles and landing three penalties. Plus, with Flood we are not talking about a rookie, but a 26 year old who has racked up more than 80 appearances in the Premiership since his debut in 2005.

The issue is that in many people’s eyes, Flood should make an immediate return to the England matchday squad to face Wales this weekend. The heir apparent to England’s number 10 jersey for too long, he has not started a match at fly-half for his country since facing Georgia in the Rugby World Cup, with England playing five times since. Considering he was identified initially as part of England’s new leadership group by Stuart Lancaster, his failure to put himself forward in such a key moment fails to inspire confidence.

It all but accentuates the need for Owen Farrell to start at fly-half against Wales, not Flood, in order to allow more creativity from Flood’s Leicester team mate Manu Tuilagi at outside centre, with Charlie Hodgson dropping to the bench. Coincidentally, Tuilagi also recently returned from injury, and showed enough good touches against Saracens to make his involvement against the new Six Nations favourites a necessity. With his confidence still shaky, Flood would be better served playing for Leicester again next weekend, before being involved in training in the build-up to facing France in Paris.

by Ben Coles

11 thoughts on “Why Flood stepping aside is a cause for concern

  1. Would be harsh dropping Hodgson, but I have to say that I would go with Farrell, Barritt and Tuilagi. It would give us as attacking a line up as the welsh and just as physical. The only problem is whether we can actually use the ball and release our backs. The Welsh certainly can and I think it makes them favourites for the game.

  2. Agree with that 10-12-13 combo Staggy. You’re right that it is harsh on Hodgson but this is a big game and we need to do what’s best to try and get us a positive result. I’d also make sure Morgan and Dickson were starting to help with the back row balance and the supply of ball to the back line.

    Surprised by Flood not going for the drop goal but may be it was due to the fact that he isn’t fully match fit? A few more games under his belt and I think he would be more likely to go for it. Would be a shame if we couldn’t call on him for the England team as he is a good player but it would be better for him to discover his form, fitness and confidence at the Tigers before coming back in to the England fold.

  3. Totally agree with the above. I was at the game, and Flood was pretty poor apart from his place kicking. He just didn’t seem to be making decisions quickly enough. He looked a lot like Youngs did in the last England game, clueless!

    Farrell, Barritt, Tuilagi sounds like a good combination. Farrell is a good distributor from 10, and his decision making has been solid so far.

  4. I was agreeing with all of this up until the suggestion for Farrel at centre. Saracens play an up and under SA style chase game, regardless of whether Hodgson or Farrel seems to be 1st receiver. I can’t see Farrel releasing the backs in the same way as Flood can. As a Welshman I’d be delighted to see Farrel starting at 10 on Saturday rather than Flood but I doubt very much that will happen. Flood is a more creative 10 is solid with his penalties and is usually reliable in pressure situations. I’d put this weekend down to an odd one off myself.

    1. Believe me he was no better last week either. You would have thought now that Wilko is out of the picture, Flood would be eager to up his game and get the 10 jersey. But he probably wasn’t expecting Hodgson to come back into question, and play as well as he had.

  5. Flood is not a creative 10 – Standing flat and being able to throw a miss pass does not make up for the fact he has never been great at heads up play, and goes missing when the pressure is on.

    Flood is the heir apparent because there hasnt been anyone else to challenge him since Cipriani dropped his form, and Hodgson had a mare in NZ.

    Being a playmaker means bringing the best out of the Backline – Farrell showed last year at 10 for Sarries, and playing at center outside Ford in the JWC that he can bring out the best in those around him.

  6. Hard call in a lot of ways as to who should play 10. Hodgson hasn’t done anything wrong and is our top try scorer but hasn’t quite done enough and isn’t the future, Flood was really the man in possession and has played well for much of his time at 10, but probably isn’t match fit physically or mentally IMO, and Farrell has the kicking and defence but hasn’t shown much in attack and is inexperienced. Tough call for Lancaster. I’d go for Farrell as I see him as the future at ten, much as the welsh did with Priestland, and also his defence is probably better than the other two.

    I think you’ve got to have our two most physical centres playing to combat the large welsh backline, although strangely they might just generate more attack too – time will tell on that one!

    Flood should be on the bench as he can play centre as well, although Hodgson could come in at ten and shuffle Farrell out. Dickson at 9, Morgan at 8, otherwise unchanged with Dowson and Lawes coming onto the bench. There that was easy – took me 5 minutes to sort out the England team – what does Lancaster do with the rest of his time!!!

  7. I agree with most of what Staggy said.

    Flood seems to polarize opinions but i believe hes been at 10 for every decent attacking performance England have had over the last 2 years. It was one of Johnson’s biggest mistakes changing to Jonny during the WC. However I see that he appears to be out of form and maybe needs more time in the prem before his return. Flood is still who i ultimately want at ten when on form.

    If we can trust Hodgson kicking (and that is a big if) then i think we go with him.

    I havn’t seen anything from Farrell going forward to suggest he can spark a backline. But if all we want to do is kick chase and hope for penalties (Sarries style) then hes perfect.

  8. I’m a tiger fan but I wouldn’t pick Flood, he has had a lot of opportunities for england and never seemed to take them. He has all the basic skills needed but not the head, he can’t negotiate traffic.

    Farrel, Barrit, Tuilagi for me, if nothing else but for their physical game. Wales are a good team, but I think if we can stop their big, very big, backs from getting over the gain-line we might put their attack under pressure. Not they haven’t got other options but this has to be a physical game for England.

    Somebody putting Roberts on his backside in the first 20 minutes would be a huge psychological blow, not that it is an easy thing to do.

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