Toby Flood is hoping to help give Newcastle Falcons the ruthless streak required to push them further up the Aviva Premiership table this season.
The three-time Premiership title winner brings 60 caps worth of international experience to a Falcons squad who last season enjoyed their highest league finish in 11 years, Flood having spent the past nine years with Leicester Tigers and Toulouse.
“It was an easy decision for me to come back, in all honesty, and it’s great to be here again,” said the 31-year-old. “If you could turn the temperature up another 10 or so degrees I’d be happier because I think I’ve turned into a soft southerner, but it’s great to be back and I’m having a lot of fun.
“Although the buildings and the face of the club probably haven’t changed too much, underneath there is a big difference. The Falcons are showing a really positive mind-set, moving in the right direction and I’m enjoying the time I’ve had here so far.
“I gained a lot of positive experience from my spell at Leicester and learned what it was like to be in that environment where there was an expectation to win things all the time. It was a huge learning curve, every game had a cup final mind-set and to have six years of that was brilliant. In that time we played in five or six major finals, won three Premiership titles and it was a wonderful thing to be part of.
“From there I moved to Toulouse where the rugby was as random as anything, but it was a great experience and a massive opportunity to gain a different perspective on the sport. To now come back to Newcastle with that nine years of experience behind me, I think that puts me in a decent place to offer something here.”
Elaborating on the understanding he has gained during his time away from Kingston Park, the former Alnwick and Morpeth junior said: “Preparation is key, and that’s one of the things I really learned at Leicester. If you missed a running line, cheated on a rep in the gym or any tiny thing like that you would be made to sit down and watch the boys do it all again. It was all about accountability to the people around you, and that was the culture. It was ran by the players, and that’s the biggest learning curve I’ve had in my career.
“I was spoon fed at Newcastle in the sense that I knew the coaches John Fletcher and Peter Walton really well from the academy, and they really looked after me. That was great, don’t get me wrong, but I went to Leicester in a position of responsibility and needed to be personally accountable. If you want to have a strong team the players have to take control of that side of it.
“To win certain games and certain competitions you need to be ruthless in the weeks leading up to it. That’s not to say you aren’t good mates off the field but when it’s business you have to be gritty with one another, and that’s where we need to get to. You need that character and desire to win, and it’s something that can be learned.”
Enjoying the Falcons’ free-scoring attack last season, the academy graduate said: “I watched five or six of the Falcons’ games towards the back end of last season when I was talking to the club about potentially signing, and spent quite a lot of time talking to Dave Walder about why they were doing certain things, how he sees it and those kind of questions. It was really positive seeing them play with such freedom, and you need to ally that with the ability to grind out a result on a wet afternoon in Gloucester or wherever.
“It will also be great to link up again with people like Niki Goneva. When Niki gets it right he’s as good as any winger in the world, and I really mean that. He was absolutely on fire last season, and even when he’s having a bad day he’s still in the top ten – he’s that good. We had a great understanding at Leicester, it’s great to hopefully have that again here at Newcastle.”
Enjoying his first few weeks under Dean Richards’ coaching team, Flood said:“I was lucky enough to play with both Dave Walder and Micky Ward, and I worked with John Wells for England, so I have a good idea of what they’re about. It’s really exciting to be working with guys of that calibre, and they’re very much willing to listen as well as being ruthless when they need to be.
“In terms of your team game plan you have to have total comprehension across the board. You can’t just have three or four guys understanding how we have to achieve our aim, and expect those guys to martial everyone else on the field. You need every single player to have an awareness of it, and the great thing with Dave is how efficient and effective he is in making sure the guys know what’s required.
“Yes, people like myself can at times talk people through certain things and explain what we want, but Dave has stripped the system back to a point where everyone is fully aware of it. When you’re at that point you’ve got players who are able to make good decisions within a framework, and you are capable of unlocking defences.
“I’ve only been here for two and a half weeks so it’s hard to say too much in a way, but it seems to be looking good. Maxime Mermoz and Sami Mavinga have come over from France, I’ve hopefully been able to help them a bit on the language side and generally settling in, and we’ve got a lot of quality throughout the group.
“It was great seeing Mark Wilson get his England recognition last month, which was a real credit to him and the club. I spoke to him about it and he really loved being in that environment – he is keen to do it again and Newcastle are now very much on the radar in terms of having guys genuinely in contention for call-ups. Mark is a proper rugby player and has been a stand-out performer for Newcastle for a long time, and you can build a team around leaders like that. Other players in the squad will see what he is achieving and how he has worked to get there, and there are definitely guys among this group who can get there too in the next 18 months or so.”
Asked about goals for the coming campaign the World Cup finalist was reluctant to set a public bar, favouring a step-by-step approach.
“The Falcons last season really set out their stall in being a serious threat to any team in the Aviva Premiership, and we could really compete for honours,” he stated.
“They key is to use that momentum and keep on looking forward, and it’s about getting results. The next step for the club is about being cut-throat in that regard, and that’s where we need to make a move.
“We’re going away for a training camp in a couple of weeks’ time so perhaps we’ll get into targets and things a bit more then, but if you want my honest opinion I’ve never really enjoyed public targets being set. I just think you have to attack every single week, and within your culture should be embedded the firm desire to win every single time you play. That for me is where a team needs to get to, having the genuine self-belief that you can win this game. I truly believe Newcastle can get there – we just need to be ruthless and honest with one another.”
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