Flood sees world of difference: No 10 relishing Lancaster's new England era
21:31 GMT, 9 October 2012
A year ago, England were on their way home from the World Cup. Their controversial campaign had ended uncomfortably early and they were returning to face the music.
It was a year ago, but as Toby Flood said, ‘it seems like a lifetime’.
The ensuing 12 months have been the most eventful and turbulent in the history of the national team, with far-reaching consequences.
What followed the tournament in New Zealand was a post-mortem exercise that descended into an unprecedented clear-out. This, in turn, had a profound impact on the higher reaches of the sport here.
Auckland blues: Toby Flood is tackled by Imanol Harinordoquy during the quarter-final defeat by France
Political manoeuvring within a divided RFU — and the leaked reports into England’s World Cup debacle, on and off the field — led to a dramatic overhaul of leading personnel. Martin Johnson resigned as manager of the Test side, paving the way for the dismantling of his coaching staff and later a revamp of the playing squad.
Record since World Cup
P8 W4 L3 D1 F156 A129
1 New Zealand……………………………………93.50
3 South Africa…………………………………….84.69
That process was instigated by caretaker coach Stuart Lancaster, who also set about a cultural make-over with the emphasis on national pride, humility and good behaviour.
England performed well in the Six Nations with a rookie line-up, losing only to Grand Slam champions Wales, and cleaned up their act to such an extent along the way that Lancaster was put in charge of the side long-term.
Flood was a frustrated figure in New Zealand, having been usurped at No 10 by Jonny Wilkinson just before the tournament after making the place his own for the preceding 18 months.
Reflecting on the fast-moving events since the World Cup, the Leicester stand-off said: ‘A year ago seems like a lifetime. So much has gone on. There’s been massive change. It’s one of those things you try to bury, because it was such a disappointment. It’s been a long year.
‘Such emphasis was placed on us and our behaviour. We were having things written about us as we sat there drinking coffee next to the hotel.
Overhaul: England have been transformed on and off the pitch under Stuart Lancaster
‘It was like, “Look at the England boys out drinking”. It did make you think, “Do I want to be in an environment like this”. But Stu hasn’t allowed that feeling to fester. He’s reinvigorated everything and hidden away the things that cause you strife and stress.
‘After the turmoil from the World Cup, it was so important to start with a clean slate. I wouldn’t say the squad was divided, but there was a fall-out from what happened, from the pressure that was being applied. Cracks started to emerge.’
Those cracks were exposed by the leaked reports which represented the lowest ebb for England and the RFU. That episode was referred to as the time they hit ‘rock bottom’ and Johnson stood down soon afterwards. The picture painted was of a set-up beset by misgivings among the players about their coaches.
But Flood rejects that simplistic notion and actually suggests the upturn of the last year may still have occurred had Johnson remained in charge.
Learning curve: England suffered Six Nations defeat against Wales
‘No system is perfect, no environment is always right,’ he said. ‘There’s always going to be a process of evolution. So ultimately, to have your problems aired publicly is difficult. It was a 100-odd page document from which 50-60 negative quotes were plucked out and nothing about the positivity.
‘No player or coach would have been in that environment if they didn’t have more strengths than weaknesses. The rawness was hard and it was difficult at the time, because you wanted to put it to bed. I respected all those guys (coaches) and thought they gave everything they could.
‘I haven’t seen Johnno around, but for all those quotes, only two negative comments were levelled against him. I’ve seen Brian Smith and Mike Ford around. Ultimately it was a collective effort and I believe those guys in charge probably could have turned it around. Had Johnno still been in charge and had he ripped it apart like Stu has and started again, would it have been as good You could argue it would.’
Heading in the right direction: England drew 14-14 in South Africa in June
As it is, Lancaster has wielded a new broom to positive effect and England go into the autumn Test series next month on the back of an encouraging draw against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in their last game.
They face Fiji and then the world’s top three of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand striving to protect — or improve on — their current fourth place in the IRB world rankings in order to gain a top seeding for the 2015 World Cup draw in December.
Flood, who will be vying with Owen Farrell for the No 10 shirt, is well aware how much is at stake.
He is optimistic, saying: ‘These next four games are massive given our position in the rankings. New Zealand are untouchable at No 1, but there are places to play for, so we need a good autumn. We are targeting winning three of those games.
‘Having that experience in South Africa and coming away with that draw has given us belief. It can be a springboard.’
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