Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Toby Flood makes instant impact on Leicester return

It is easy to forget, in all the hullabaloo that has accompanied England’s tortuous progress in the autumn internationals, that the team who finished second in last season’s RBS Six Nations rugby Championship were very different from the sides fielded this month.

Toby Flood, for instance, wore the England No 10 shirt in their last three Six Nations outings — the single-point defeat in Ireland to the eventual grand-slam winners and the crushing wins over France and Scotland.

On Saturday the 24-year-old, who grew up in Jonny Wilkinson’s shadow at Newcastle Falcons but will re-emerge as a threat to Wilkinson for the 2010 Six Nations rugby, made his first start since a six-month layoff for a ruptured Achilles tendon.

“I have always been excited about coming back at such a crucial stage of the season for Leicester, both in the Premiership and the Heineken Cup,” Flood said. “I didn’t let missing the autumn internationals frustrate me because I always knew I was not going to be fit for them.”

“It was nice to get out there again for my first full game back today, after two previous games coming off the replacements’ bench, and although it took a little while to get my head around all the different calls again it went well and I enjoyed it.

I like to take people on and run from my own line and, if England do not agree with that style of rugby, I am not their man." England may not be playing well, but their two home matches in next year's Six Nations hospitalityare already sell-outs and all the hospitality for the first game, against Wales in February, have been taken. Australia and New Zealand are not so fortunate commercially and they will express their concerns about the stagnancy of the game on the field at this weekend's gathering of the International Rugby Board's general assembly in Dublin, followed by a meeting of the council.

“The offload to Jordan, which led to our second try, was especially pleasing because it showed that my rugby instincts are still there. That was definitely a case of seeing something in front of me, and going with it. It wasn’t a planned move.

“It is a schedule of games which is crucial to our season on both fronts, as Lewis Moody underlined to the squad when he spoke to us all in midweek following his return from England duty, and I’m delighted to be back in time to play my part in it.”

Moody was in rollicking form throughout, despite a ten-minute spell in the sin-bin during the first half, when he was penalised for killing the ball. His try near the end — a 40-metre sprint for the line after Scott Mathie had spilt the ball in the tackle — was both a fitting reward for his industry and for his uncanny ability to be first to the loose ball.

Leicester’s first try was awarded to them by the referee, after Leeds offended again at a five-metre scrum, and Brett Deacon — on for Tom Croft, whose knee injury is not thought to be serious — was driven over near the posts.

Alesana Tuilagi, another back from a lengthy injury lay-off, came off the bench to set up Flood’s try with a typically powerful incision into the opposition ranks.

Leeds lost Ceiron Thomas, the fly-half, to a leg injury suffered in the warm-ups, but his replacement, 19-year old Joe Ford, coped extremely well with a testing Premiership debut and kicked two nerveless goals to give his team, albeit briefly, a hard-won first half lead.

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