TOBY Flood will return to the England side tomorrow for stage four of their Grand Slam quest inspired by the words of Sir Bradley Wiggins.
The Olympic and Tour de France champion addressed the England squad before their QBE autumn international campaign and his words have stuck with Flood, who has always been a keen cycling fan.
England fans will expect their team to complete a routine victory over Italy tomorrow and set up a shot at the Grand Slam when they head to Wales on the final weekend of the championship. Flood is acutely aware of what England could achieve over the next eight days but he learned from Wiggins’ Tour de France triumph that there are no short-cuts to glory. Each stage is vital.
“Bradley Wiggins talked about how you have to break everything down,” Flood said. “He knew the Tour de France was there and he had the ability but he had to get the Paris-Nice right and the Dauphine right. That is a really interesting thing for us to deal with. This is the Six Nations, it is eight weeks long and you have to get it right day-by-day, week-by-week. I was interested to hear him say how some days he can’t be arsed to do it and it sounds terrible but there are those days when it is wet and miserable. But you get out on the bike or out on the field and you get motivated because if you get two or three missed sessions it hurts you more.”
Flood has come into the side in place of the injured Owen Farrell as one of five changes made by head coach Stuart Lancaster following the 23-13 victory over France. Flood links up with Danny Care in a new half-back partnership. Mako Vunipola will make his first Test start at loosehead prop while Lancaster has recalled hooker Tom Youngs and flanker James Haskell.
England took their attacking game to a new level in their opening victory over Scotland but since then, as lock Geoff Parling described it, they have relied on character to beat Ireland and France. Lancaster has demanded more than just sheer bloody-mindedness this weekend, with England anxious to fix the scrum and lineout frailties which have crept into their game.
“You need character because it underpins everything in rugby but ultimately if you are going to keep winning matches at the highest level you need to be hitting eight or nine out of ten in all areas of your game,” Lancaster said. “You need to dominate physically and take your opponents to places they don’t want to. If we win through character alone this weekend I will take it but I won’t be happy with it.”
England could tighten their grip on the RBS Six Nations title if they can boost their points difference tally by putting Italy to the sword, as they have a history of doing at Twickenham. England, whose average win at home to Italy is 48-11, currently have a points difference cushion of 17 over Wales, who face Scotland at Murrayfield today.
Stand-off Luciano Orquera has returned in one of eight changes to the Italy side. Orquera, man-of-the-match in Italy’s thrilling 23-18 win against France on the opening day of the tournament before struggling in the defeat by Scotland, comes back in for Kristopher Burton who played in the loss to Wales.
“We started the tournament well but have been disappointed in how the following two matches went,” coach Jacques Brunel said yesterday. “Against Wales we didn’t play at the intensity we should have. Sunday’s match will be important in that respect. If we’re not at their level physically, we can expect a hard afternoon and a potentially heavy defeat.”
Sergio Parisse will return to captain Italy as expected after his suspension for insulting a referee during a French Top 14 club match last month was shortened on Wednesday.
In the back line, Gonzalo Canale is moved to his preferred position of outside centre with Tommaso Benvenuti dropping to the bench and Gonzalo Garcia coming in at inside centre. “Against Scotland and Wales we conceded tries scored by centres, but we think that having played together often for Italy, Garcia and Canale have the sort of good understanding that will be necessary,” added Brunel, who joked the only way to stop England centre Manu Tuilagi was “to lock him in the dressing room”.