When heavyweight centers Mathieu Bastareaud and Manu Tuilagi cross paths in today’s Six Nations match between France and England at Twickenham, expect fireworks.
The pair add spice to a game that is as eagerly awaited as ever even though France have no chance of winning the championship after losing their first two matches.
However, England are still on course for the Grand Slam and for that to happen they have to make sure that Les Bleus do not claim their first win at Twickenham in the Six Nations since 2005.
Tuilagi, who replaces Billy Twelvetrees in the starting lineup after missing the win over Scotland due to injury and coming off the replacements’ bench against Ireland, will play alongside defensive mainstay Brad Barritt.
In the French midfield, Wesley Fofana will partner Bastareaud.
“We just saw the England team, [flyhalf Owen] Farrell has two powerful and speedy centers alongside him,” Fofana, a powerful and pacy player himself, told reporters on Thursday. “Tuilagi is one of the best centers in Europe so you have to be vigilant all the time.”
The face-off between Tuilagi, who weighs about 113kg, and Bastareaud, 115kg, could be one of the keys to the contest.
“Mathieu is quite powerful himself, he’s got nothing to be ashamed about,” Fofana said. “There could be some sparkles.”
However, Bastareaud will not just focus on Tuilagi.
“I take what’s coming,” he said. “There is not much better than Tuilagi. It is going to be a great game, but I don’t play against Tuilagi I play against the England team.”
Just like his teammates, Bastareaud will need to be fully focused and put pressure on his opponents.
“England play some intelligent rugby,” he said. “It’s nothing fancy, but it’s efficient. It’s our job to put them under pressure.”
The surprise effect might work, according to Fofana, who played on the wing in France’s defeats by Italy and Wales.
“They like to show it when they’re good,” he said.