Rugby World Cup 2011
Wilko tide washes over Flood
Toby Flood (Getty Images)
Queenstown - Toby Flood insisted he was not involved in a competition with former Newcastle mentor Jonny Wilkinson even though both men are vying to be England's starting fly-half at the World Cup.
Wilkinson, one of the greatest goalkickers rugby union has known, missed five out of eight shots at the posts during England's opening 13-9 Pool B win against Argentina in Dunedin last weekend.
Yet such was England manager Martin Johnson's faith in Wilkinson that Flood, who was on the bench, did not get any game time at all against the Pumas.
Flood is used to playing second fiddle to Wilkinson, having been his understudy at Newcastle while making his way in professional rugby union.
But it seemed the apprentice had overtaken the master when Flood, now with English giants Leicester, was chosen as England's starting outside-half during this season's Six Nations title-winning campaign.
However, by the end of August's warm-up matches, Johnson -- England captain when Wilkinson landed the drop goal that won the 2003 World Cup final against Australia -- had reverted back to his old team-mate.
Flood, asked how he dealt with the constant comparisons to Wilkinson, now with French club Toulon, throughout his career, told reporters here on Thursday: "I'm better equipped now because you get asked about it every game.
"It's never really affected me, I never saw it as a competition in kind but as a chance to learn from an outstanding player, when you're 18 or so and you are seeing someone who's on top of the world it's amazing to be there, so it's never been an issue," added the 26-year-old Flood.
"Now it's a talking point outside the squad but between me and Jonny there's no big high five or hand shake of congratulations about getting the start - it's just down to business -- we get on better than most people think," added Flood, capped 42 times by England but who has only started 28 Tests.
However, Flood insisted he'd had been desperate to get on against Argentina.
"It's really frustrating, how it feels not to be part of something," explained the Tigers' playmaker, only summoned to the 2007 World Cup, where England lost in the final to South Africa, as injury cover for Jamie Noon.
"They (the England management) haven't said you're second fiddle or whatever -- each week is selected on form more than anything else."
Flood admitted he was at a loss to explain why Wilkinson, England's record points scorer and second only to New Zealand's Dan Carter in the all-time Test standings, had endured such an off-day with the boot against Argentina.
"It's probably once in a blue moon, isn't it?. It was a bit of a shock to the system. Take out maybe one-and-a-half of those kicks and the rest were pretty tough, they weren't all gimmes.
"But he said he thought he hit them well so I don't think it's been a massive soul-searching week for him."
The World Cup balls are the same brand as were used in the Six Nations and Flood said: "Whenever you hit a bad one, it's always the ball's fault, or the wind or the ground or whatever.
"They are the same Gilbert Virtuo as in the Six Nations, it's the same piece of equipment I just think it's because they are a bit fresher at game time.
"When we are at home, we'll probably kick them in for a few days whereas here's its just an hour or so so they behave slightly differently."
But Flood, who could well start in England's second match against Georgia in Dunedin on Sunday should Johnson decide to freshen up his team, said he did not expect the balls to make much difference to his goalkicking.
"I'm always hit and hope, it doesn't change anything in my dynamic, it might unravel at the weekend but let's hope not."