June International Tours

Flutey eyeing British and Irish Lions berth


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England centre Riki Flutey hopes he can claim a unique place in rugby union history this year by becoming the first man to play both for and against the British and Irish Lions.

New Zealand-born Flutey, who came off the bench for Wellington in their 23-6 loss to the 2005 Lions, has looked increasingly assured in England’s midfield since making his debut in November after completing a three-year residency qualification in order to represent his adopted country.

The 29-year-old former New Zealand Maori back scored two of England’s five tries in their 34-10 thrashing of France last weekend.

Martin Johnson’s men finish their Six Nations campaign against old rivals Scotland at Twickenham this Saturday.

Although Flutey’s focus is firmly fixed on the Calcutta Cup clash, he has made no secret of his desire to be chosen for the Lions’ tour of South Africa later this year.

That party will be picked by Ian McGeechan, Flutey’s boss at Wasps, and the midfielder said: “I am all about playing consistently good rugby for England and if I can keep that up then hopefully other things will fall into place.

“Every player in the Six Nations who is eligible for the Lions I am sure has it in the back of their minds because at the end of the day it is the ultimate goal.

“In 2005 I played against the Lions for Wellington and that was a fantastic occasion,” Flutey, who is due to join French club Brive after the end of the season, added.

“The Lions are well respected and it is huge in New Zealand. I remember as a kid my father had all the old Lions tapes.”

But Flutey faces a fierce fight for the Lions’ inside centre shirt with Wales duo Gavin Henson and Jamie Roberts, plus Ireland’s Gordon D’Arcy all in contention.

For all his previous experience, Flutey admitted he’d been taken aback by the differing demands of Test rugby.

“I got quite a big shock in the first couple of games for England,” said Flutey, who first made his name in the Premiership with London Irish before joining Wasps ahead of the start of this season.

“I am all about communicating and playing in front of such fantastic crowds you can hardly hear each other on the pitch.

“In the autumn we were a group of guys who had come together, we had new attacking formations and defensive plays. Sometimes it can take a bit of time.

“I feel I am becoming more confident and comfortable in my role.”

Although an age group representative in his native New Zealand, Flutey struggled to find a role at senior level and, such is the strength in depth of All Black rugby, never looked likely to play a Test for his homeland.

However, he was at pains to point out that playing for England was not some sort of ‘second-prize’.

“From the day I was asked to be in the squad by Martin until now, this is everything I expected and wanted to achieve,” Flutey said.

“I have loved this environment and representing England. I haven’t had any stick for quite some time now about being Kiwi so I think they are getting more comfortable with me being around!

“Every New Zealand kid’s dream was to play for the All Blacks but I have no regrets whatsoever.”

Sapa-AFP – Rugbyweek.com

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