England flyhalf Toby Flood used self-deprecating humour on Thursday to deflect the pressure of expectation that is on him to spark the tourists’ backline in the second test against South Africa in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Flood was on Thursday named as the starting pivot in place of Owen Farrell, who failed to use his backline to any great effect in the first test defeat last weekend in Durban.
“It will be pretty dull, I feel very old these days, it’s a struggle to get out of bed.
“The last time we played here on the highveld, we lost by 50 points in 2007 [55-22 in Pretoria] so anything less than that will be good,” Flood joked.
On a more serious note, the 26-year-old Flood said he would be using both kicking and his distribution skills to try and move the big South African side around the field.
“Going toe-to-toe with the Springboks is very difficult because they are very physical. But my point of view is to try and shift those big guys around and deny them that momentum which they can then expand on.
“The altitude will hurt us a bit, so we need to be aggressive and pragmatic. You don’t want to waste energy playing in your own half, plus Morne Steyn can kick goals from all sorts of places if you make a mistake.
“We want to manipulate the two Steyns [flyhalf Morne and inside centre Francois] and Jean de Villiers as much as possible. They’ll kick a lot and kick well, they have that ability, plus Pat Lambie and Ruan Pienaar off the bench are great kickers too. We need to nullify it, put as much pressure as we can on their kicking game, but also not narrow our game too much,” Flood told reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday.
“I don’t feel like there’s a heavy load of expectation on me, I’m just going to go out and enjoy myself. I’ll have a crack at some stage …”
Flood, who has not started a game since last year’s World Cup, said there was an exciting new atmosphere in the squad since new coach Stuart Lancaster took over at the start of 2012.
“From the outset, Stuart struck a chord with how he wanted us to go about our business both on and off the field. This is a very united squad and we want to continue to get better,” the Leicester Tigers star said.
Flood said he was excited by the chance to play with two electrifying centres outside him in Manu Tuilagi and Jonathan Joseph, who will make his first test start.
“It was more like a chess game last week, we always felt we were in the match, but suddenly we were chasing it in the last 10 minutes. That meant we were more expansive, and we can take the promise of those last 10 minutes into the second test.
“I can’t let Manu demand the ball every three seconds, but hopefully I can get him into the game more than last week. It’s Jonathan’s first real cap, but he looks sharp and I’ll just be trying to keep things light-hearted and relaxed. He has all the talent in the world, he just mustn’t over-think things,” Flood said.
Tuilagi’s opposite number is one of the bigger units in world backlines in the 1.91m, 100kg Francois Steyn.
“He’s an outstanding player and it’s going to be a huge challenge like last week against Jean de Villiers. He’s one of the best centres in the world,” Tuilagi said.
Tuilagi himself is no shrinking violet though at 112kg, the same weight as South Africa’s loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira, the famous “Beast”.
The Samoan-born Leicester representative is looking forward to being more of a threat to the South African defences now that he has moved one place inside and is closer to the action.
“I feel comfortable at 12 and I’ve played a couple of times there this season, plus for Leicester against the Springboks in 2009. I’m looking forward to hopefully getting more ball at 12 and also being able to make more tackles,” the pocket battleship grinned.
That November 2009 freezing, damp evening in Leicester is certainly one the Springboks will remember as the Tigers tore into them with great ferocity up front and Tuilagi, then an academy member, announced himself as he bashed through their midfield. The 21-year-old is relishing the chance for a repeat performance.