England centre Billy Twelvetrees is primed for his gain-line war with Jamie Roberts after declaring he is expecting the most physical battle he has faced.
Roberts will spearhead Wales’ threequarter assault in Sunday’s RBS 6 Nations title clash at Twickenham as the main battering ram of the ‘Warrenball’ brand of power rugby favoured by head coach Warren Gatland.
Twelvetrees has faced several of the game’s most feared centres in Ma’a Nonu, Wesley Fofana and Brian O’Driscoll in a developing Test career spanning 11 caps.
But the 25-year-old Gloucester centre views fellow British and Irish Lion Roberts as offering the most muscular confrontation of all.
“Yes, in terms of physicality Jamie Roberts will be the biggest challenge I have faced,” Twelvetrees said.
“He’s one of these players you look up to and he’s such a good professional as well.”
The collision between Twelvetrees and Roberts could be seismic – the former is 6’3” and 16 stones, the latter 6’4” and 17 stones.
Wales will launch their 2009 and 2013 Test Lions down the 12 channel at the first available opportunity and Twelvetrees knows the importance of issuing an early statement of intent in defence.
“It’s huge for us as a team to get on the front foot straight away,” he said.
Twelvetrees’ defence was an area of concern after he was flattened by Matt Toomua in last autumn’s victory over Australia as the Wallabies centre forced his way over the whitewash.
Since that 20-13 win at Twickenham, however, his defence has been watertight: “You have to make your tackles and physically dominate the opposition. There’s a huge focus for me to get better at that.”
England will enter the final weekend of the Six Nations with a shot at the title if they dispose of Wales.
“Twickenham is the home of English rugby and it means so much to all the boys,” Twelvetrees said. “We took huge belief from coming from behind and winning the game against Ireland. Doing it at Twickenham makes it extra special. The Twickenham factor always gives you an extra per cent.
“I can’t put a number on it, but it gives you that extra belief and extra bit of energy when you are blowing.”
Wales meanwhile have recalled centre Jonathan Davies after a four-month absence from Test rugby for Sunday’s clash.
Davies has seen just 105 minutes of competitive action for the Scarlets since suffering a torn pectoral muscle during Wales’ opening autumn series defeat by South Africa on November 9.
But the 25-year-old, a star performer in the British and Irish Lions’ Test series triumph against Australia last summer, returns to resume his powerful midfield partnership with Roberts.
With Davies back, George North, who deputised in the number 13 shirt against France last month, reverts to his familiar wing position, with Liam Williams dropping out.
One other change sees fit-again lock Alun-Wyn Jones take over from Jake Ball.
Wales: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Racing Metro), G North (Northampton); R Priestland (Scarlets), R Webb (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Perpignan), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Racing Metro), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons). Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets), P James (Bath), R Jones (Scarlets), J Ball (Scarlets), J Tipuric (Ospreys), M Phillips (Racing Metro), D Biggar (Ospreys), L Williams (Scarlets).