FORMER league star Sam Burgess has stoked up the fires ahead of England's crunch World Cup match against Wales at Twickenham on Sunday morning by appearing to aim a tongue-in-cheek jibe at Wales centre Scott Williams.
Williams said during the week that he found it harder to defend against Jonathan Joseph than more direct ball carriers such as Burgess, who will make his first competitive start for England as one of four changes to the starting XV from the defeat of Fiji.
When asked about Williams's comments at an England press conference overnight, Burgess replied: "Who's that?"
When it was pointed out that the question referred to Williams, Burgess added, with a knowing smile and what appeared to be a couple of half-winks: "Oh yes. OK. I'll just wait and see. I'll just let my performance do the talking on Saturday."
Only Burgess will know whether his reaction was because he had misheard the question or was a jokey put-down of the Scarlets centre, reminiscent of when former England wing Ben Cohen once responded to a question about Wales wing Shane Williams with the answer: "Shane who?"
But the manner in which he delivered the comments suggested they were a gentle barb aimed at the 33-times capped Wales centre, who also had backed his midfield partner Jamie Roberts to come out on top in the head-to-head battle with Burgess.
Either way, Burgess immediately came under fire from angry Welsh supporters on Twitter, heightening the tension ahead of the game that is likely to have a major impact on the World Cup fortunes of either side.
@WalesRugby this burgess guy ( I'm sorry I don't no who he is!) he wil soon no who Scott Williams is,the guy in the red shirt he can't catch
- genette edwards (@GenEdwards1985) September 24, 2015
#samburgess lol....He's only done a #bencohen 'who's Scott Williams' @WelshRugbyUnion There's some motivation right there. Cmon #wal
- Glyn Welsh (@welshy75) September 24, 2015
Sam Burgess will know exactly who Scott Williams is by full time on Saturday #NewcastleEmlyn
- Anthony Lewis (@tonylewis92) September 24, 2015
I think Sam Burgess should ask Courtney Lawes who Scott Williams is and what he's capable of.
- Christopher (@Chris_Pepler) September 24, 2015
Williams, who has more than four years of international experience with Roberts, had acknowledged the England midfield would pose a big physical challenge but said that the dancing feet of Joseph would have posed a greater threat.
"I know which one is a lot harder to defend - Jonathan Joseph," Williams had said. "I wouldn't say I prefer it but it is a bit different when you have to make your reads if they are running hard in those lines.
"He [Burgess] is a big, physical player so I'm sure he will be carrying the ball hard. We've just got to make our tackles."
Sam Warburton, the Wales captain, not surprisingly, was diplomatic in his reaction Burgess's remarks.
"I don't blame Sam Burgess for that," Warburton said. "When I play against teams there are times when I don't know who each of the opposition are."
Burgess's jibe was the first grenade lobbed in the mind games between the two sides since Wales coach Warren Gatland suggested earlier in the month that England had "a problem of which way they want to play and who they want to play, who at nine and 10, who they play in midfield and the make up of the back row".
Gatland could have claimed a degree of prescience in his mischievous assessment, given that England yesterday changed their fly-half, with Owen Farrell starting ahead of George Ford, and turned to an untried midfield combination of Burgess and Brad Barritt - the 14th centre partnership of Lancaster's 3½-year tenure.
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