Forget Danny Cipriani, the Springboks’ biggest individual threat at Twickenham on Saturday is a discarded New Zealander.
Riki Flutey recently qualified for England after a three-year residence in the country and coach Martin Johnson sprung at the opportunity to draft the 28-year-old into his squad – his opinion of the player shaped by watching him deliver a number of outstanding performances for London Irish and Wasps since his move from Wellington in 2004.
Flutey was convinced to play for England by close friend and former All Blacks hooker Norm Hewitt. It was a tough sell, as Flutey still harboured ambitions of having the All Blacks’ silver fern covering his heart as opposed to England’s red rose that will occupy that area for the remainder of his Test career.
However, Flutey has spat the expected rhetoric about his pride in pulling on an England jumper and as deep as his disappointment at being overlooked by the All Blacks must be, his performances for England in a short career wouldn’t suggest that.
He excelled in a mediocre England team against Australia on Saturday, looking threatening every time he got his hands on the pill. His speed off the mark, quick feet, balanced running, vision, strength in the tackle and the ability to offload in contact troubled the Wallabies and ensured England’s backline possessed an unpredictable edge.
One can only imagine the extent of his impact had the England forwards not become increasingly powder puff as the Test progressed, thereby forcing him to launch attacks from further and further behind the advantage line. If the Springboks forwards continue their indifferent form, Flutey’s influence will be amplified.
Flutey arguably represents Springbok No 12 Jean de Villiers’ biggest challenge this year at Test level, although Ma’a Nonu will have strong claim here. But Flutey’s repertoire of skills will ensure that the ace midfielder will have to be on point both defensively and on attack.
However, no player excels in a vacuum. In this regard, Flutey’s combination with flyhalf Cipriani and outside centre Jamie Noon has been an outstanding feature of a team marked by mediocrity. It would be premature to ascribe greatness to the triumvirate, but they have the makings of a world-class combination.
The Flutey/Cipriani pairing was birthed and refined last season at Wasps, and their familiarity will be hugely beneficial to England against the Springboks and in future. As will Flutey’s versatility.
Wasps coach, Ian McGeechan, has often utilised Flutey at flyhalf in certain circumstances, with Cipriani shifting a channel outside. Martin Johnson as admitted that strategy appeals to him and has intimated that England could employ a similar approach.
Their potency will hinge heavily on the platform their pack establishes. And if the England heavies gain the ascendency in that facet of play, the Springboks’ defensive line, which has looked alarmingly porous at times on this tour, could be cut to shreds.
By Ryan Vrede