Manu Tuilagi has never once set foot inside the Millennium Stadium – considered by many to be the finest of all rugby union venues, although at least four grounds in South Africa give it a run for its money – so he is not entirely sure what to expect when he takes the field on Grand Slam business in two days' time. Happily for England, the human bowling ball is the last person on earth to lie awake at night worrying about the shock of the new, for the very good reason that he is not in the habit of worrying about anything.
"I've always wanted to go to Cardiff and watch a game in that stadium," he said. "The thought of playing there really excites me. I enjoy it when I'm playing against the home supporters – the crowd I like most in the Premiership are at Gloucester; they're really crazy – and if they close the roof at the Millennium, the noise level will be really loud.
"The way I see it, we're not the ones with the pressure on us. The game is in Wales, so they're the ones who have to perform. And anyway, we're really good at playing away. We haven't lost a Six Nations game on the road for two years."
The Leicester centre is not thinking in terms of England losing this one, either. He is far from arrogant – the very opposite, in fact – but self-doubt is not obviously a part of his make-up.
If Stuart Lancaster, the red-rose coach, asked him to play on the wing, thereby creating a midfield space for the Gloucester playmaker Billy Twelvetrees and his greater range of skills, he would simply shrug his shoulders and crack on with doing what he likes to do on a rugby field: that is to say, smithereen opponents when he runs at them and marmalise them when they run at him.
Lancaster is not expected to do any such thing when he confirms his starting line-up today. England are likely to make changes in both half-back positions – Owen Farrell for Toby Flood, Ben Youngs for Danny Care – and may well go with Tom Croft rather than James Haskell on the blind-side flank. There has also been a serious discussion about restoring the Harlequins prop Joe Marler to the front row in place of Mako Vunipola, who performed strongly on his first start last weekend, while the young Wasps lock Joe Launchbury will give way to Courtney Lawes if he fails to recover from the elbow injury that hampered him against Italy last weekend.
England's midfield balance is patently a matter for close examination over the coming weeks and months, but, in fairness to the coach, a Grand Slam game against the nearest and dearest on the less welcoming bank of the Severn is hardly the time to experiment. Especially as Tuilagi, for all his limitations as a creative force, has established himself as the team's chief source of tries. Since Lancaster took charge at the start of last year's Six Nations, Tuilagi has scored six of the things – twice as many as the scrum-half Youngs, his nearest challenger.
He did not find his way across the line against the Azzurri last Sunday, but then, neither did anyone else. These individual and collective failures were not, however, down to any lack of intent, according to his midfield partner Brad Barritt – the man charged with the task of holding England's defence together in the face of the serious threat posed by a Welsh back division just running into form.
"There was no shortage of ambition against Italy," argued the Saracens player. "The stumbling block was poor execution in the opposition 'red zone'. We'll need to show some patience against Wales, rather than try to do everything as fast as we can.
"We'll also have to be a lot more aggressive at the tackle area, especially if they pair Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric as their flankers. Italy stifled us in that department. In Cardiff, we'll need to get to the breakdown first and dominate the space."
If Barritt is England's go-to man in defence, he is one of the can-do men in the dressing room. He may not be immune to doubt like Tuilagi, but he is no one's idea of a pessimist. If the big prizes of title and Slam go the way of the red rose this weekend, he will not be in the least surprised.
"We'll see it as an accomplishment, but also as a stepping stone on the road to where we want to be," he said. "With a home World Cup coming up in 2015, we want to perform on the international stage with ever-increasing confidence. The next step in that process is this game in Wales and it would be a massive shame not to take it."Reuse content