“Liam probably has one-of-a-kind confidence. He’s not arrogant or cocky but he’s very confident in every situation and playing alongside him in the Tests was pretty cool and definitely gave me confidence.”
At Twickenham Stadium on Saturday the world will revel in a battle between two of the classiest wings in world rugby, and two British & Irish Lions teammates – Anthony Watson and Liam Williams.
Both are stars of the last decade and both have been restored to the starting line-ups of their respective sides for Round 4, fireworks are guaranteed.
On Saturday Watson will take up his berth on England’s right wing, directly opposite Williams and with inevitable clashes to come. Both are experts whether in attack, defence, or in the air, and the outcome of those battles will no doubt produce some standout moments.
The quotes above from Watson, at 26 two years younger than Williams, came after the 2017 Lions Tour to New Zealand in which they started all three Tests together, the England man on the wing and Williams at full-back.
Incidentally Elliot Daly also started those three Tests and will wear No.15 for England on Saturday, Leigh Halfpenny also coming off the bench in the first Test.
Watson, Williams and Daly all memorably combined for one of the finest Lions tries ever (good luck to Sean O’Brien for his London Irish debut on Friday), and have been lighting up the Guinness Six Nations for years.
In the clip above we see Watson scoring at Twickenham in 2016, also the last time Williams played a Championship match at the ground, Williams’ set-move try coming in a 21-16 defeat in 2017.
Watson has 42 England caps and eight tries in 17 Championship appearances, his Welsh counterpart 62 caps plus seven tries in 27 Championship appearances.
It’s testament to their abilities that both men have slotted straight back into the starting XVs despite recently overcoming injuries – Williams not playing at all since the World Cup and Watson having only played three times for Bath.
The thinking of both head coaches in Eddie Jones and Wayne Pivac is clear – if you have proven performers at the very highest level, injury return or not, you use them.
Looking at Watson’s selection it’s incredibly unfortunate for Jonathan Joseph, superb a fortnight ago in the win over Ireland but Jones is opting for an out-and-out wing.
For Wales, Pivac had options with considerable talents like Johnny McNicholl and young flyer Louis Rees-Zammit, yet the tried and trusted performer in Williams gets the nod.
The good news for Guinness Six Nations fans is, particularly owing to Wales’ more expansive playing style under Pivac, we should get to see plenty of this elite wing battle.
In the 2020 Championship Wales have looked to spread play more, with increased offloads, and are second only to France in tries scored (nine), also making the joint-highest linebreaks over the three rounds with 17, Ireland also matching that number.
Jones’ men, on the other hand, are masters at using space and look to poke and prod teams into position before striking out wide, three of their six tries coming for the back-three, a figure which no doubt would be higher were it not for conditions in Scotland.
Will Watson or Williams come out on top? Impossible to say with neither having an obvious weakness. If you’re a Wales supporter watching Williams defend a channel, go up for a high ball or finish a move, given his body of work you’d expect him to succeed almost every time – the very same is true of any England supporter watching Watson.
Something is going to have to give at 4:45pm on Saturday – we can all just enjoy the ride.