x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Flutey finds right tune

England's Riki Flutey believes his partnership with Mike Tindall can trouble Wales in their Six Nations clash at the Millennium Stadium.

Riki Flutey will win his fifth Test cap when England play Wales in Cardiff.
Riki Flutey will win his fifth Test cap when England play Wales in Cardiff.

The last time Riki Flutey played at the Millennium Stadium, he was treated to an Andy Goode masterclass. Goode racked up 19 points in a virtuoso performance as Leicester defeated Wasps 34-24 in last year's EDF Energy Cup semi-final at the home of Welsh rugby. And Flutey would be more than happy for his international teammate to repeat the feat when England take on Six Nations champions Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

"He ran rings around us," recalled Flutey. "It was impressive and depressing at the same time. That hurt, but I wouldn't mind him doing it again on Saturday." Despite losing that day, the New Zealand-born inside centre has predominantly fond memories of his visit to the Millennium Stadium and is itching to return. "It's an amazing place to play rugby," he says. "It was noisy as hell but that's nothing compared to what it will be like on Saturday. But I'm used to hostile crowds. I've played Super 14 rugby in South Africa and the fans throw all sorts at you - abuse as well as whatever they can get their hands on."

The only volleys heading Flutey's way this time are likely to come from the formidable Wales midfield pairing of Tom Shanklin and Jamie Roberts. But Flutey, who has Mike Tindall rather than Jamie Noon outside him on Saturday after Tindall's return from injury, is unfazed by their partnership. "I don't give a damn who I'm up against and equally I'll play with whoever's alongside me at centre," he says. "The Welsh boys look tasty but Mike and I won't give an inch."

Flutey has been one of England's recent rugby union success stories and, injury permitting, looks set to form an at least a mid-term partnership with Tindall. And he believes such solidity is key to turning England back into world beaters. "It's not for me to pick the side but sure it helps keeping the same two guys week in, week out for England," he says "Mike did the job for a long time with Will Greenwood and it'd be nice for us to have the same sort of success."

Flutey goes into the game off the back of his 29th birthday on Tuesday night, which he celebrated with a rigorous England training session and an early night. A former junior All Black - he won the Under 19 World Cup alongside the likes of current New Zealand captain Richie McCaw - he is renowned for his obsessive attention to detail. Teammates tell stories of how he has three remote controls lined up perfectly in a row at home, how he keeps a diary of what he eats every day and how he went away on holiday and left a vacuum cleaner in his brother-in-law's bed - a house guest at the time - to encourage him to match his own high standards of cleanliness.

But such obsessive behaviour can only help England, who, according to team coach Martin Johnson, merely need to iron out the minor details to return to rugby's top table once more. Father-of-two Flutey, who already knows the English anthem off by heart ahead of his fifth Test cap, backs Johnson's assessment, singling out England's indiscipline as an area they need to improve against Wales. "Everyone knew their jobs inside out against Italy," he says.

"It's just we failed to execute them properly and got sloppy. If we don't clean up our act against Wales, we'll get clobbered." Wales coach Warren Gatland is likely to have half an eye on England's No 12 during the game in his other job as Lions coach ahead of the end-of-season tour to South Africa. And rather than go for the token line that the next game is all that matters, Flutey readily admits the Lions tour is always in the back of his mind.

"My focus is obviously on Saturday but I'd like to impress and get on the plane for the Lions tour," he says. "Tell me a player that qualifies for the home nations that doesn't. I'm not ashamed saying that. Let's hope a lot of the England boys can impress him with a win." mmajendie@thenational.ae