We put out the call for you to send us your questions for Toby Flood via our facebook page, and you replied in your droves.
Here is the full transcript, as the Newcastle Falcons star tackles each one in turn:
Q1 from Edn Bacon: You’re on ‘lockdown’/isolation with two other team-mates, who would they be and why?
Toby says: I would choose Logo Mulipola because he makes a very mean coffee – absolutely outstanding. I need that in the morning to get myself going, and then for the second person I think I’d need a bit of stupidity just to keep spirits up. Someone like John Hardie would be good – just to see him being John Hardie. It’s hard to explain for people who don’t know Hards, but I’d just love to see what happens to him. After three or four days I think he might just explode!
Q2 from Steven English: Was playing in France a new learning curve culturally, and in the style of rugby?
Toby says: Yeah, massively. It was so different but it was great fun. Culturally it’s so far from where we are – mainly because they’ve got the climate. Everything’s outside all the time, including eating, drinking and going for coffees with the boys. They love to spend a lot of time with each other, and when you look at the training it was also very different.
In England it’s very regimented, like ‘meeting, then training, then weights, then training again and another meeting’, and you’d try and get through everything as quickly as possible. In France you’d have two or three hours’ training in the morning, then literally everyone would stop for lunch for a good three hours. You’d then go back and do your weights in the afternoon and you were there til 3 or 4 o’clock, which was very foreign for me to begin with.
Rugby-wise, it was just so less structured than in the UK, and was almost entirely heads-up stuff. It’s great fun to do it that way, but at the same time when you’re in a game and you need one try in the last two minutes you’re kind of thinking ‘we should just have a play or a process we can turn to here so we can win this game’. They never really did, and it was all just off the cuff, but it was a lot of fun.
Obviously now that I’m back in the UK it’s a lot different, but I did take some bits from it. At Leicester before I joined Toulouse it was very regimented in terms of your pre-match routine, ie you arrived an hour and a quarter before the game, it was always this food at this time, this meeting at this time – and when I went to Toulouse the timings were never the same from one week to the next. It was always more relaxed before games in terms of your prep. When something you normally have isn’t there, it initially spooks you, and when I was younger I would have been freaking out a bit if I wasn’t at the ground an hour and a quarter before kick-off, or I wasn’t doing this bit of my warm-up at this particular time. In France you’re just so used to not having that routine that you kind of just shrug your shoulders and get on with it, so it’s been good for me in terms of not getting thrown when team buses are late, or you can’t get on to the pitch when you want to. It doesn’t really matter, and you just learn to adapt.
Q3 from Stu Bailey. Which back players through the history of rugby would you have liked to have played with?
Toby says: Martin Offiah – definitely. I was fortunate enough to play with some extremely good ones like Jason Robinson, who was pretty special. The classic one that I’m sure everyone would loved to have played with was Jonah Lomu, just an absolute legend. Tim Horan was properly good, and I know played a bit of Premiership with Sarries – you look at those guys and they just excite you. At the moment someone like Sinoti does that for players. I’m lucky enough to be in the same side as him, and when guys like that are in the mood and get their hands on the ball it just changes the whole dynamic of a game. The other one that’s just come into my mind is the old All Black fullback, Christian Cullen, and those are the kinds of players I love watching.
Q4 from Sharon Davidson. A couple of fun ones to keep it light. Bacon or sausage sandwich, with brown or red sauce? And what is your pint of choice with the boys after a Falcons win?
Toby says: I’d go sausage sandwich with red sauce. For my pint, we’ll go with a Beavertown Neck Oil. It’s an IPA type beer – one of those new posh ones. The world’s gone mad when I’m choosing something like that, but it’s really nice.
Q5 from David Anderson. When you played rugby at Kings School, was the coach still Mr Davey? Where did you tour with the school and was the colours honours board up?
Toby says: Yes, Chris Davey was the coach. He’s a bit of a legend at Kings and is a great bloke. We went to Italy twice, which was good, and I don’t remember there being an honours board. It must have come after my time, but I apologise to people at Kings if I’ve remembered that incorrectly!
Q6 from Joe Jones. How much has the pace of the game changed from when you started with the Falcons the first time around to now?
Toby says: It’s unrecognisable – not just the pace, but the whole game. The physicality is immense these days.
When you went out to play games in 2005 I had stick-thin legs (which I still do now, to be fair!) but against pretty much any team there would always be four or five players you felt you could have a go at. It could be a case of this guy doesn’t move very well, this guy can’t take a high ball, this guy doesn’t defend well, or whatever. There’d be a few of them in every team, but the game has evolved incredibly with the level of coaching and analysis to the extent that those guys just aren’t there any more.
Part of that is possibly down to the advances in strength and conditioning training, video analysis or just out-and-out coaching, but these days you’re lucky to find one single player in a match-day 23 who you could say is a weak link in any one aspect of the game. You might watch a video where a guy has a bad day under the high ball, and when you play them the next week and stick a load of up-and-unders on him he takes every one because he’s been practicing all week. I remember watching video of players who didn’t tackle particularly well the week before we played against them, I’ve targeted them for an early carry and been absolutely melted in the tackle – that just never used to happen 10 or 15 years ago.
I actually think it’s really strange when you look back at old games, just to notice the difference. When I first moved back to Newcastle I went to stay with my old team-mate Ben Woods while I was finding a house, and he still has the old footage from when he was playing at the Falcons. I think he’s the only man in Newcastle who still has a VHS player! We were sat watching one of the games for a laugh, and it just looks like a different sport.
The best way to look at it is the physicality at the breakdown, and I’d love to put a game from 15 years ago side-by-side with one from this year just in terms of how brutal every breakdown really is. I’m talking about the legal stuff, not a South African stamping on your head, but it’s just off the charts how different it is now.
Q7 from Dan Burns. What is the hardest tackle you have ever been on the receiving end of, and who was it from?
Toby says: Good question. Courtney Lawes hits pretty well, and he if gets you then you’ll know about it. He’s knocked me out a couple of times – or technically it was Dan Cole’s knee! Other than that I think Jerry Collins got me with a peach of a hit in a game when he was playing for the Barbarians. He picked me out from a mile off and, almost like a child, picked me up and walked me backwards. It was terrifying!
Q8 from Kenny Cooper. What was the best advice you were given as a junior?
Toby says: Play every sport you can. That would always be my advice to any youngster – don’t get buried down into one sport. Look, there will come a certain point in your mid to late teens when you probably have to pick one if you’re serious about it, but up until that stage, and leaving it as late as you can, just keep playing as many sports and having as much fun as you can.
Q9 from Ian Bell. When the time comes for you to hang up your boots, do you think you'll go into coaching?
Toby says: Well, I’ve just signed a two-year contract to keep playing, so I hope it’s not any time soon!
I don’t know, is probably the most honest answer I can give at this stage. I’m currently thinking it through in terms of what might happen down the line, and it’s interesting. It’s a lot of work when you see how many hours the likes of Dave Walder, Dean Richards and all the coaching team put in. As well as that, you’re basically living on a knife-edge a little bit in the sense that you’re hoping and staking your reputation on the fact that the players can go out and implement what you’ve put in place during the week.
You’re the focal point in terms of pressure even though you’re not out on the field being a direct influence on the game, and it’s always the coach’s fault if a team doesn’t perform well! It’s a tough one because on the one hand it’s something that intrigues me, but at the same time there are a lot of red flags around it.
Q10 from Grace Erin. How did it feel to be labelled as the player with the “most unaerodynamic head” in the Premiership?
Toby says: Haha, I quite like that. I assume that’s because I’ve got big ears! Erm, well if it becomes a problem I’ll just tape them up, but so far it hasn’t been an issue!
Q11 from Oli Rouse. Which player have you always feared playing against, and why?
Toby says: I don’t think I’ve ever ‘feared’ playing against anyone, but I think I can see where the question is coming from. OK, in terms of guys who I’ve always found it tough playing against, someone like Sam Tuitupou would probably be the worst. He was synonymous with just belting you, and likewise with Jerry Collins.
Your head was always on a swivel whenever Sam was in the opposition team, and he had a habit of just jumping out of the defensive line. He was very good at it and made lots of good reads – absolutely battering you. Especially because he always tended to play 12 I was always very aware whenever he was on the field, because you just knew he was floating around waiting to smash you.
Q12 from Darren Higson. Which ex-Falcons player did you look up to the most when you were coming through the ranks in your first spell?
Toby says: There were quite a few of the boys, to be fair, and it wasn’t just one. Jonny Wilkinson is the obvious one because he was a huge influence on me as a young fly-half. He was always willing to give up his time to help me, which is something I’ve hopefully taken with me when the younger guys here look for some advice from time to time. He’s been a good friend ever since, and likewise somebody like Matt Burke was also great at giving up his time, and was willing to pass on to the younger boys any knowledge that he had. Jamie Noon was another who was brilliant with us, and those three were all pretty special. There were a lot more, too, but I’d be on all day if I sat and listed them individually!
Q13 from Billy Shaw. As supporters, what do we have to look forward to next season?
Toby says: Some rugby, hopefully! I guess that’s the first thing we all need. From there, I look at the crop of young boys we have coming through, who could potentially be really exciting. Lads like Will Haydon-Wood, Rob Farrar, Tom Marshall, Cam Kelemeti, Will Montgomery and that whole group – there are a lot of very talented players there who could be really, really good for us for a lot of years. It’s about those boys establishing themselves over the next couple of years so they can really kick on in the first team, and going from there. But they definitely have the ability.
Q14 from Vicky Allan. What's your favourite way to beat boredom in the house - especially with no sport to watch on TV?
Toby says: I go out in the garden as often as I can, planting things and looking after them. I’ve just bought some gladioli, and I’ve planted some lettuce for the vegetable patch. I am all about getting outside, and yesterday I had the kids out with me planting some carrots and radishes. I think I must be the Monty Don of rugby!
Q15 from Andrew Bell. Which player would you like to see at the Falcons next season?
Toby says: I’d like to see Mark Wilson back home. I miss him. He’s a top bloke, and one hell of a player.
Q16 from Kate Overton. How many hours a week do you spend in training?
Toby says: It depends on extras after training and all that kind of stuff, and obviously depends what day your game is that week. It’s hard to put a number on it because it varies that much, but if you were to take a typical training day it would be arrival at around 8am, and leaving around 3pm or just after. Within that you might have one half day per week and one day off per week, and obviously not all the time you’re at the club will be on-field training. There’ll be meetings, analysis, weights and things like that, plus a few meals. It’s hard work at times, but we really can’t complain about the working hours compared to most other jobs.
Q17 from Yvonne Weir. Who is your hero?
Toby says: Alan Shearer was a bit of a legend when I was growing up – and still is, of course! I was a big Newcastle United fan during my youth, and he was the main man. I actually bumped into him at the golf course a couple of weeks ago and had a bit of a chat, which was nice, so I think ‘Wor Alan’ would have to be right up there in terms of heroes.