Rugby World Cup 2015

Burgess' Williams snub fires up old rivalry

Wales' Williams (with ball in tie against Uruguay) and Roberts have more experience than England's Burgess and Barritt in midfield.
Wales' Williams (with ball in tie against Uruguay) and Roberts have more experience than England's Burgess and Barritt in midfield.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Sam Burgess has turned up the heat another notch before England's World Cup showdown with Wales, by claiming that he has never heard of Scott Williams, one of the centres who will start opposite him today at Twickenham.

Williams said on Wednesday he would find it harder to defend against Jonathan Joseph, the fleet-footed outside-centre who is injured, than England's direct midfield of Burgess and Brad Barritt.

When Burgess was asked about those comments on Thursday, he retorted: "Who's that?"

When it was explained to Burgess that Williams is a Wales centre, he smirked and added: "Oh, yes. OK.

"I'll just let my performance on Saturday do the talking."

Only Burgess will know if he was really unaware who Williams is or, more likely, that it was a mischievous jibe aimed at the centre.

But, either way, it was a firm put-down from the former rugby league international.

IN THE DARK

Who's that? Oh yes. I'll just wait and see. I'll just let my performance do the talking on Saturday.''

SAM BURGESS, England's rugby centre who claims not to have heard of his Welsh opponent tonight, Scott Williams

Burgess' comment evoked memories of Ben Cohen responding to a question about Shane Williams in 2000 by saying "Shane who?" - and it served to highlight just how confident the England centre is.

This time last year, Burgess was still a rugby league player.

Today, he will start a union international for only the second time and line up in direct opposition to Jamie Roberts, a Lion with 73 caps.

Burgess and Barritt will be playing together in the England midfield for the first time. Roberts and Scott Williams have been in the Wales squad for four years and boast a combined 106 caps.

"I believe in myself," Burgess said. "I did imagine (being here) 10 months ago (when I switched codes). I feel comfortable."

Wales captain Sam Warburton called the Pool A blockbuster "the biggest game that we (England and Wales) will play".

One of rugby union's oldest international fixtures, with a history dating back to 1881, England and Wales have met 10 times in the Warren Gatland (Wales' coach) era.

Each team have won five matches heading into this meeting.

Today's fixture promises to have huge ramifications for a "Pool of Death" that also includes two-time world champions Australia.

Warburton, who captained a British and Irish Lions team coached by Gatland on a victorious tour of Australia in 2013, said: "Unless we meet again in the final - you never know - this will be the biggest game I've played in."

Meanwhile, governing body World Rugby issued an official warning to Wales on Thursday.

They had drafted in players from outside their World Cup squad for training sessions.

Teams are allowed to utilise only the 31 players in their declared squads. Injury-hit Wales relied on the extra players at a training session on Wednesday.

Gatland insisted that Wales have done nothing "underhand".

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'Burgess' Williams snub fires up old rivalry'. Print Edition | Subscribe