In the last two years there has been a welcome shift in mentality among professional rugby coaches with regards to the age-old ‘brains versus brawn’ debate in the backline.
Instead of picking the biggest, meanest players possible in an attempt to batter opposition defences into submission with the least attractive method possible, coaches have finally cottoned-on to New Zealand’s gamelan where intelligent players take centre stage.
Powerhouse players like France’s Mathieu Bastareaud and Luther Burrell of England have lost their place in their elite player squads to much more fleet-of-foot players Alexandre Dumoulin and Henry Slade, respectively.
Well, all that will all go out of the window when Wales make the short trip over the River Severn to Twickenham on Saturday where there will be a potentially explosive clash on the cards between Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi.
However, unlike most of their 110kg-plus centre counterparts, these are two players who can light-up a Six Nations that is staggering slowly to a dour close, and their potential battle is one all rugby fans across the world should relish. Dare I say it, this may be the first Six Nations game that New Zealand and Australia’s opposition analysts bother tuning into for due diligence ahead of Wales and England’s summer rugby tours to their lands.
As long as injury doesn’t force Eddie Jones hand early, the England coach will look to introduce Tuilagi around the 60-minute mark to provide an edge when Welsh legs will be tiring.
Aside from England’s summer 2014 summer tour to New Zealand, this will be the Leicester player’s first proper run out for England in three years and Jones must be cautious about playing his star man too early.
That said, given how destructive Tuilagi would still be even if he was just 80 per cent fit, you can hardly blame Jones for unwrapping his present a little bit early.
Roberts, meanwhile, has become so important to Warren Gatland that is it quite clear the New Zealander bases his gameplan around the Harlequin’s barreling breaks in midfield.
Most opposition coaches in the world would be extremely concerned about the potential of Tuilagi, but against Roberts the Samoan-born star is unlikely to have it all his own way.
This is not the first time Roberts has had to face an England side thinking they have more firepower than Guy Fawkes.
It was only last year that the Welsh centre was facing up to the mighty bulk of Sam Burgess in a Rugby World Cup pool game where the result of their personal duel was seemingly more important than the outcome of the match to some sections of the press in the pre-game build-up.
The two behemoths clashed spectacularly several times and in the end it was honours even with neither man taking a backwards step – this weekends’ battle is likely to end in a similar conclusion.
England are the unbeaten men in the competition and with Wales sitting just one point below them, this game is set to be an absolute belter. Tuilagi’s entrance could take it to another level.
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