x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Wilkinson reassured by Flood selection at inside centre for France

England fly-half lauds Toby Flood's inclusion in a midfield which is lacking in versatility and creativity at the Rugby World Cup.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND // Jonny Wilkinson, the England fly-half, has lauded the selection of Toby Flood to inside centre for their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France as the team opt for some versatility in a midfield which has lacked creativity in the tournament so far.

Flood's promotion at the expense of the injured vice-captain Mike Tindall was one of four changes made by Martin Johnson, the head coach, today for the match at Eden Park, giving the Six Nations champions another adept passer and a right-footed kicking option.

"The fact is you have two guys on the same wavelength, that focus on the same things with a similar way of sorting out problems. We have both played at 10 and 12 and we will have to adapt to situations as they happen on the pitch," Wilkinson said.

"Having Toby there is very reassuring. It is reassuring knowing that if I am at the bottom of a ruck, then there is someone there making decisions and thinking like a 10."

Johnson had faced a selection dilemma with Tindall in doubt all week with a leg injury and Wilkinson battling an arm complaint as well as form concerns, while in his limited opportunities Flood was replicating the performances that helped lead England to the Six Nations title.

Shontayne Hape appeared to be the logical selection if England wanted a like-for-like replacement for Tindall, as the specialist inside centre is also mostly noted for his defence despite scoring two tries against Georgia in his only match so far at the tournament.

But Johnson preferred a more nuanced option inside of the hard-running Manu Tuilagi at outside centre.

"Floody has been playing very, very well," Johnson said. "Toby will bring us something different than Mike and Shontayne or Matt Banahan in that position. It's an exciting combination for us. It gives us Toby's kicking game, Toby's passing game. He's a pretty experienced Test player now, with 40 plus caps. He's been playing well."

Even Ben Youngs, the scrum-half, is enthused by the possibilities of Wilkinson and Flood combining.

"It will be interesting to see how they go because they know each other really well," Youngs said. "I am really excited about it and, if anything, it will add to our attack. Toby can step in at 10 and I think it will allow us to spread the ball more, so long as we can get the forwards into the right place on the pitch."

Flood's selection also gives England another goal-kicking option, with his 77 per cent success rate at the World Cup currently above Wilkinson's career average (74) and at the tournament (45).

"I have had only two kicks that I would like to take back," Wilkinson said of his 11 missed shots from 20 attempts. "The others I am happy with. I am always confident taking kicks and always confident I can land them.

"We will have a plan before the game. Toby has knocked some good kicks over. I haven't been at my best but we will have to see on the day."

Asked who will be England's first-choice kicker, Johnson was tight-lipped.

"We'll see on Saturday," he said.