Being an ex-inside centre myself, I always look at the midfield as a marvellous breeding ground of unusually functional combinations and explosive chemistry. I'm not talking about those generic combo's of small and speedy with size and power, I'm talking about these complimentary partnerships that we often see that don't emphasise any particular athletic gift. Those centre relationships that just work, when neither game seems fitted to one or the other. This includes experimentation with positioning, different methods of attack and defence, and a focus on disruption rather than inspiration; centres that just bugger up what the opposition want to do... Here are a few of my favourite examples!
5. Dominic Waldouck and Fraser Waters (Wasps)
It's the worst kept secret that Fraser Waters is one of my favourite players of all time; his championing of Shaun Edwards' blitz defence, revolutionised how we see defences operate in the modern game. However, a combination of Waldouck and Waters might seem more like a rotation option for Wasps needing a solid defence for the odd Premiership outing, not a Premiership Final winning centre combination that obliterated the likes of New Zealand favourite Aaron Mauger and England hopeful Dan Hipkiss. But that's exactly what they did. Waldouck was never the biggest of centres, at around 5ft 11 and 14st 6lbs, but he never shirked a tackle. He hit fast, was direct in attack and provided Wasps a real platform during his tenure; with savvy operators like Flutey and Waters either side of him, he could be seen as the clean up man. Neither centre was that big, neither that fast, neither that agile, but their stubborn attitude and cohesion meant that the Wasps midfield was just impregnable in that final.
4. Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell (England)
I'm very much in the pro Twelvetrees and Burrell camp and I'll happily die on that sword. Before Barritt and Tuilagi snatched the jerseys away, Twelvetrees and Burrell seemed like an incredibly promising combination for Stuart Lancaster. Both very fresh faced and new to the international scene, it would have been very easy to drown against the formidable pairings of Davies and Roberts, Fofana and Bastareaud, and O'Driscoll and Marshall, but they held their own and even scored one of the tries of season through a piece of interlocking beauty. If it weren't for a first game blunder against France, this pairing would have been the bedrock behind one of England's best Six Nations wins and most convincing Grand Slams. Burrell ended the tournament with three tries and Twelvetrees a handful of try assists. Twelvetrees, looking back at it, was the architype for this double pivot system that Jones now deploys, with a ball playing 10 at inside centre, and a powerhouse thirteen to cut lines off of deft balls. Again, both players are fairly large units but not the biggest, or the fastest, or even the meanest, it just worked!
3. George Pisi and Johnny Leota (Samoa)
Okay well this one doesn't seem that strange on the surface, two serviceable Premiership players combining on the international scene, but it was the sheer destruction that they ensued on a tough Welsh side that lends themselves to my favourite pairings. In 2012, Wales were having a bit of a rough time, with a poor loss to Argentina at home opening up their summer international season up with a whimper, but what followed seemed inconceivable. A Samoan side in financial and political ruin, with little to no support from World Rugby rocking up and absolutely knocking seven bells out of Gatland's heroes. Although the game started with Williams and Pisi in the centre, a far more functional pairing on paper, when Leota came on early into the second half, suddenly Samoa started to dominate the midfield. Roberts and Beck were all over the shop, being bulldozed by these two colossal lumps of Pacific steel. The unthinkable happened when Leota followed up skipper David Lemi's kick ahead, and then profited after the ball bounced away from Halfpenny in the dying embers of the game. Samoa 26 - 19 Wales. Perhaps not as unusual as others on this list, but two solid units suddenly turned into prime Umaga and Nonu in the second half of this match with the agility, match intelligence and control to boot.
2. Mirco Bergamasco and Gonzalo Canale (Italy)
Again, this one might not seem so unusual, but when you boil it down to achievements vs context, then you realise that this really was an unusual pairing. Although Bergamasco often filled in at Centre, he will always be remembered for his contributions out wide, the reason he wasn't out wide was to accommodate Masi, who actually ended up being an awesome centre... So, effectively you had three centres out there... Or did you have one centre and three wings? Canale was always a classy player to watch and a real underrated gem during a golden period for Italian Rugby. With his skill and agility, and Bergamasco's signature ferocity and explosivity, they ran rampant against Scotland back in 2007 with Bergamasco scoring a cracking solo effort. How could they possibly back this up? Well they tried this unusual combination again against Wales, with Bergamasco scoring another try from midfield with Italy then securing a historic win away from home. The sheer individual brilliance of two players during their peak made this partnership work despite there being a surprising lack of chemistry and cohesiveness; despite little to no training in this pattern, it went on define Italy's best ever Six Nations.
1. Elvis Seveali'i and Mark Taylor (Sale Sharks)
Two names you would never have thought would have been put in the same sentence let alone in the same Premiership winning side, but these two blew away Leicester Tigers in the 2006 final... I was there that day at Twickenham as a spritely 9 year old in one of my first big Rugby day trips out. This Sale Sharks side will always be remembered as one of the best of the professional era, playing incredibly exciting Rugby and often battering opponents in the process. The weird thing about this partnership, is that Seveali'i was pretty much a journeyman at this point, always putting in consistent performances but never lighting the world ablaze, Taylor was an accomplished Welsh international albeit right at the end of his career. They were coming up against the in form pairing of the season in Gibson and Smith, with Smith featuring in the Lions setup and on the national stage the year before. However, just as Seveali'i did all season, it ran rings around his opposite number, using both his acceleration and footwork to often beat the first man. Taylor would add stability, mopping up any loose balls and being used as a rare 13 distribution option. Definitely a weird and wonderful combination.