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Four Of Rugby’s Greatest Ever Centre Partnerships

during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 31, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Patrick Perry takes a look at the great partnerships in rugby.

The most important partnership in rugby is your centre pairing. No team this millennium has been successful without two world-class centres.

Through time the ideal 12 and 13 have changed but what has not changed is the quality of centres the game continues to produce.

Here are four partnerships that Stuart Lancaster could’ve done with having back in September.


Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy

These two heroic centres played alongside each other for Leinster and Ireland for a whopping 15 years. O’Driscoll and D’Arcy extended their world-record centre partnership to 56 caps against France in O’Driscoll’s swansong. BOD will go down in history for his 141 caps and his 46 tries as well as Six Nations appearances and try records.

DUBLIN, IRELAND - APRIL 30: Gordon D'Arcy of Leinster runs with the ball as Brian O'Driscoll follows up during the Heineken Cup semi final match between Leinster and Toulouse at Aviva Stadium on April 30, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Most notably to a lot of Irish fans, O’Driscoll beat England eight times, more than any Irishman bar Mike Gibson. D’Arcy, however, won’t be remembered in the same light despite his skill and accolades. What most impressed Irish supporters, was his ability to wrong-foot the defence off passes from his centre partner while also managing to create space out of absolutely nothing.

It seemed that a new type of centre partnership had been created, which overtook the traditional format preferred by international coaches, of using a crash centre at no.12 (Jamie Roberts) and ignoring the possibilities of quick offloads in the centre of the field. The new centre combination was also impressive in its hard and intelligent defence despite the duo’s builds. This often converted into successful counter-attacking for Ireland and therefore tries, tries and more tries.


Tim Horan and Jason Little

This was the partnership that stunned the world in the 1990s. Horan and Little met when they were 13 years old, rooming together for a rugby league representative team. They partnered each other for 17 more years until both their careers ended in 2000. Just like the D’Arcy and O’Driscoll partnership, one took a lot more praise than the other with Horan being the pride of Australia.

8 Sep 2000: Tim Horan joins Saracens during a photoshoot announcing his arrival held at the Saracens Training Ground in Southgate, London. Mandatory Credit: Jamie McDonald /Allsport

Little was one of the best centres in the world throughout the 1990s due to his attacking prowess, formidable defence and playmaking ability. Together he and Horan ignited a fearsome centre partnership for Australia, which came to the fore during the Rugby World Cup 1991 (won by Australia). Little was criticised by Will Carling during the 1991 World Cup as a possible weak spot in the Australian defence, but he was proved wrong as the youngster tackled everything thrown at him.


Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith

These two make up the best centre partnership that the All Blacks have had and are likely to ever have. Since 2008 we have gawped at their talent from afar – the improbable agility and skill of Smith coupled with the brute, the deft touches and genius of Nonu.

during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 31, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

They haven’t lost a test since 2012 together or a World Cup game ever while lining up together a record 61 times. They’ve often kept Sonny Bill Williams on the side-lines as well as anyone else who has tried. Smith is the silent assassin in the double act with his decision making and skill set complementing the muscular attributes of Nonu.

Having complimented each other’s game over the last ten years, the pair sadly played their last ever game together in the World Cup final triumph over Australia.The two have combined to be a part of New Zealand’s most successful era and the All Blacks owe a lot to them.


Jeremy Guscott and Will Carling

This pair had all the tools to form the best centre pairing in the history of English rugby. Pace, strength and skill were all attributes the duo shared in abundance. Will Carling was the youngest England captain at the tender age of 22. He was often seen as a fast- footed centre who always wore his heart on his sleeve despite being labelled as boring.

3 Feb 1996: Jeremy Guscott (right) of England is congratulated by Will Carling (left) of England after his try during the 1996 Five Nations Championship match between England and Wales inTwickenham, England. England won the match 21-15. Mandatory Credit: Dave Rogers/Allsport

A potent threat to any side’s defence, he formed a world record centre pairing of 43 Tests with fellow high-profile centre Jeremy Guscott. The Former Captain was regarded as a less complete player than his centre partner, Guscott. In 65 Test matches, Guscott claimed 30 tries, leaving him second in England’s all-time list behind winger, Rory Underwood.

But he provided much more than just points to the national team. Guscott gave an element of glamour/skill, providing a forward-dominated team with some sensational running from behind the scrum, justifying why he is still raved about today. The dynamic duo won four Six Nations Championships as well as coming second in the 1991 Rugby World Cup.


These centre partnerships will go down in rugby history. Though none of the four partnerships were quite as good as Sam Burgess and Brad Barrit (at outside centre), these eight players will forever be known for being part of a pair.

It is still a question today, who is the best centre partnership ever?

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Author: The PA Team

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