There have been many fantastically talented centres since rugby turned professional, but having a centre partnership that works together effectively and with a balance that benefits the side as a whole is something that has eluded many teams over the years.
However, we take a look back at the five best centre partnerships of the professional era.
5) Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie
One of South Africa’s best ever centre partnerships, De Villiers and Fourie were two particularly powerful centres with both silky handling and superb all-round skills sets to go with their traditionally Springbok-style physicality.
But don’t take my word for it, instead listen to one of the world’s greatest ever centres, All Blacks legend Ma’a Nonu. When asked which centre pair has been the toughest he has ever faced, he named the South African duo (via Stuff.co.nz):
“I remember vividly in 2009 when we played the South Africans in Durban and Bloemfontein and we lost those matches.
“We played them again in the third test in Hamilton (and lost) and that’s the pair I remember being the toughest I have come up against.”
4) Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll
Brian O’Driscoll will go down in rugby history as one of the sport’s greatest ever players. When partnered with Leinster team mate D’Arcy, the duo were two wonderfully intelligent players that could read other’s games so well – creating opportunities from nowhere thanks to their impressive pace, footwork, awareness and distribution skills.
When Ireland won their first Grand Slam in 61 years in 2009, it was D’Arcy and O’Driscoll that were central to the men in green’s success. They are both sorely missed by the national side today.
3) Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall
Ever since the days of Carling and Guscott England had struggled to find a centre combination that worked so effectively together, that is until Clive Woodward combined the brilliant rugby brain of Leicester and Harlequins inside centre Greenwood and the ferocious physical power of Bath and Gloucester outside centre Mike Tindall.
Together they were at the heart of everything good about England’s most glorious of periods and were both central to the World Cup triumph of 2003.
2) Tim Horan and Daniel Herbert
This Wallabies centre partnership first began during the amateur era, but continued to flourish well after the sport turned professional. However, the duo will be remembered for their fantastic performances in the 1999 World Cup that saw Australia lift the trophy for a second time. Indeed, both players were named in the ‘Team of the World Cup’ that year.
Horan was a naturally gifted playmaker with wonderful dancing feet, an eye for even the smallest of gaps and an almost telepathic awareness of the players around him. When combined with the physical and abrasive qualities of Daniel Herbert, the pair were a truly destructive force for Australia and regularly carved open opposition defences.
1) Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith
For a while during the early years of his career it looked like Nonu wasn’t going to fit into All Blacks Graham Henry’s plans on a regular basis, but a player once pigeonholed as the bludgeon to Hurricanes team-mate Conrad Smith’s rapier worked tirelessly to improve his game, transforming himself into one of the best centres rugby union has ever seen.
When the two players combined they were consistently and constantly lethal; a mixture of pace, power, beautiful dancing feet and silky skills sets that saw both players lift two World Cup trophies in their careers. It will be a good while before New Zealand find a centre partnership to rival the legacy of this pair.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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