Bath stars are ready to take centre stage

ENGLAND vs SAMOA

BATH centres Matt Banahan and Shontayne Hape believe their close off-field relationship will help them develop a midfield partnership that will benefit England for years to come.

With veteran World Cup winner Mike Tindall being afforded the week off by manager Martin Johnson, the Bath axis of Kiwi-born Hape (right) and Jersey giant Banahan will get the opportunity to translate their club from onto the international stage against Samoa tomorrow.

The decision to play Banahan at centre – his previous five England appearances all came on the wing – represents something of a bold move by Johnson and 23-year-old Banahan is glad he’ll have a familiar figure in Hape alongside him.

He said. “Me and Shontayne have got a good link and understanding from playing together at Bath. We’ve also spent three months as roommates together so I think we know each other inside out.

“It’s a matter of trust out their in the midfield so it’s good to have him there. We’re looking forward to it and it’s a chance we want to take with both hands.

“We want to carry in the form we’ve shown together in the Premiership. Obviously I want to stake my claim.”

Johnson has already publically warned his players not to rest on their laurels following last weekend’s uplifting win over Australia and Banahan is certainly expecting a tough encounter against Samoa.

He said: “We want to cut a clean slate. Obviously we don’t want to forget about the positives of last week but we need to kick on. Samoa are no pushovers, all of their players are tough and lots of them play in Super 14 teams and top Premiership sides.

“In international rugby you want to win every game, you don’t need any more motivation than that.”

Standing at 6ft 4in and weighing in at 18 stone, Banahan should be better prepared than most to cope with the physical challenge the Pacific Islanders will present, and Hape has given his club colleague and roommate a vote of confidence.

He said: “He’s had a massive ride in his career, starting somewhere in the forwards.

“He can play anywhere. He’s such a specimen, you don’t want to mess with him. Luckily I room with him in the England camp so I know him on a personal level. He’s up for this challenge.”