Rugby World Cup 2011: England aim to blow France away

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer in Auckland, New Zealand
Toby Flood (centre)
Flood is on standby to replace Mike Tindall at inside centre against France

Toby Flood insists England have put their recent controversies behind them and are focused on making a blistering start against France on Saturday.

The squad has been dogged by reports of late-night drinking and boorish behaviour towards a female hotel worker, while two coaches were banned.

But Flood says the team are united ahead of their World Cup quarter-final.

"Our starts have been poor, so as a squad we need to say, they've been rubbish, we can get it right," he said.

"What we must do against France is - and everyone talks about this in the camp - have a massive first 20 minutes. You can't say, at 60 minutes let's do this, because we might not be in the game at 60 minutes."

Earlier this week, former England centre Jeremy Guscott told BBC Sport that some current players were showing a "lack of respect" and that some of their behaviour had been "staggering".

Flood, in relaxed mood at the team hotel in central Auckland, said: "There have been incidents that have obviously not been what we wanted to do. There's a lot been written about it, but you're in a World Cup - there's a lot more media, there's a lot more to be written.

"Things happened that were not really what we wanted to do here. Our first aim was not to have 'X' happen.

"However, you deal with it as a squad. You understand that sometimes when somebody's suffering it's an important time to rally round and help them deal with it, and that's what we have to do.

"You stand by what you do as a person. You have to be accountable for what happens in life, and by no means does that make someone an idiot.

"You get to write whatever you want. You can say what you like, and that's your job. However as a squad we'll deal with it and unite behind it."

With Wilkinson poised to retain his place, Flood is on standby to replace Mike Tindall at inside centre should he not recover from a leg injury.

"I was disappointed not to be in the 15 against Scotland, like any player would be," said Flood, who told reporters that Johnson had yet to reveal his starting XV to his team.

"All I can do is put my hand up when I get the opportunity and in training. It's not different to what Wilkinson was doing during the Six Nations, and that's trying to help the team at half-time, trying to let the guys know what you're seeing, and in training trying to help guys with their lines, to manipulate the guys into shape.

Flood refused to accept that France's uncertain form or maverick team selections - scrum-half Morgan Parra starting at fly-half - mean England should start as favourites.

"It might look like disarray, but I've been in teams like that and suddenly if players face inward and start playing for one another, it can be a very powerful tool.

"I really rate Morgan - I think he's an outstanding player. Playing him at Clermont he tore us to pieces. I think he was hard done by in the last Six Nations - went to Ireland and kicked everything, and then got dropped the week after playing us.

"Being nine or 10, the French have the ability to switch over. Dmitri Yashvili plays 10 for Biarritz. Having a nine at 10 sometimes opens your eyes to different ways of breaking teams down.

"France might have lost the last two games Parra's played at 10, although I think he actually did very well in those. But it's an area we can have a look at in attacking terms."