Lions braced for midfield battle

Two 2009 Lions will go head-to-head in a colossal midfield battle at Twickenham on Saturday. [more]

Lions braced for midfield battle

Two 2009 Lions will go head-to-head in a colossal midfield battle at Twickenham on Saturday.

England welcome Wales to HQ for the first of two back-to-back clashes between the countries as they ramp up their World Cup preparations.

And in the centre Riki Flutey will line-up directly opposite Lions Man of the Series Jamie Roberts in a mouth-watering clash. The duo were teammates in South Africa but there will be nothing friendly about Saturday's meeting.

"There will certainly be no love lost because there's no such thing as a trial England-Wales game," said Roberts.

"Twickenham is sold out and boys are playing for World Cup places with the chance to realise dreams. It's also a capped international and no player will disrespect that at all."

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Flutey is one of seven former tourists in the England starting line-up, and forms a centre partnership with exciting youngster Manu Tuilagi.

He has been hugely impressed by Tuilagi's progress this season but he has warned his teammate of the threat his old pal Roberts poses.

"While we have got threats like Manu, we will have the threat of Jamie Roberts," said Flutey.

"I went to South Africa with him with the Lions and over the last two years or so he has been on fire. For myself and Manu it is going to be a massive challenge

"But Manu is a fantastic player as we have seen over the last year. He has shown his quality, he has a powerful game with amazing skills and mentally he is tough as well.

"I am really looking forward to the chance of playing with him [Tuilagi] and hopefully creating some opportunities for him."

Meanwhile Wales have picked five former Lions in their starting XV including recalls for Roberts, Alun Wyn Jones and Shane Williams, who has not played since injuring his knee against Ireland in March.

"We have made changes but we have some pretty established combinations coming back with Jamie Roberts returning to the midfield and Alun Wyn and Bradley in the second row," added Wales coach Warren Gatland.

"These are the men in possession of the jersey at the moment and it is now up to them to hold on to it and they will only do that with a performance at Twickenham at the weekend.

"The stakes are high for individuals, but as a team it's also important for us to create some momentum as we head for the World Cup in New Zealand.

"The boys are in great shape and England might get a surprise over how well prepared we are physically.

"Tuilagi is a talented youngster. He has really improved over the past 12 months and we know he's going to be a real threat.

"England will be looking at his combination with Rikki Flutey who offers a left-footed kicking option outside Jonny Wilkinson. I’m sure both midfielders will be keen to make an impression.

"But we're happy without our midfield combination of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. Hopefully they can give the England boys something to think about with their own physicality. It should be a good battle.

"There will certainly be no lack of motivation with so much to play for. It's England versus Wales but with World Cup places also on the line."


Starting teams for Saturday's clash between England and Wales at Twickenham:

*Bold denotes a former British & Irish Lion

England: D Armitage; M Banahan, M Tuilagi, R Flutey, M Cueto; J Wilkinson, D Care; A Corbisiero, D Hartley, M Stevens, S Shaw, T Palmer, T Croft, L Moody (capt), J Haskell

Wales: R Priestland; G North, J Davies, J Roberts, S Williams; S Jones, M Phillips; P James, H Bennett, C Mitchell, B Davies, A W Jones, D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt), T Faletau


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