They look alike on the pitch. Both wear a scrum cap. Both huge lumps with dark hair under caps, in the thick of the action. Hence the other reason for sticking them as a pair here. Wells played six against Falcons but is found more often in the second row. Martin played eight on Sunday, more often a six, but he can also play in the second row. So both are part of the new hybrids. Push comes to shove, Wells at four or five and Martin at six would be my preferred option.
Martin, already capped by England, is staggeringly big for a 20-year-old. My eldest lad couldn’t believe the size of him as we watched him warm up on the touchline in front of the giant North Stand at Welford Road. Huge limbs and chest. The ball is swamped by his bucket hands at lineouts and restarts. He’s a tough tackler, a seriously tough tackler. Carries bloody hard, his reverse-angle try against Falcons was like a bowling ball down the alley. Unstoppable. Raw, physical and ready to step up. There is absolutely no desire in my ageing years to rewind the clock and find myself playing against this lad. Looks set for an incredible future. The lad can run as well, socks down, there is a sniff of Andy Ripley about him.
His pal Wells may just be on the wrong side of the age spectrum but the second-row giants who have owned the world stage are not intimidated by turning 30. Harry is still only 28. Capped in the summer, Wells’ work rate is staggering and he has been at the heart of Tigers’ re-emergence.
Looking back at the big games, Wells’ name is on the teamsheet every time. A proper Tigers lad who would walk on broken glass for Steve Borthwick. Cracking lineout operator. And we can often forget that lads with small numbers on their back, one to five, are there to damage the opponents physically, in the set piece and in the rucks and mauls. Wells does this as well as any.
If you want to know the reason Tigers are flying, you don’t need to look much further than these two. Every side would love to have them.
Fitz Harding – Bristol
This may sound counterintuitive, but Bristol’s bad run of form may just have been the best thing to happen to Fitz Harding’s development. Playing, winning, confidence. These are things that players thrive on, but you only really get to see what a player is like when he is under pressure. How good is he when a team is getting duffed up?
Why is this more important to Harding? Because with his tall, gangly frame, and a willingness to run and run, it would have been too easy to look good in a Bristol team full of superstars who love to run it from everywhere. Instead, as Bristol have floundered, losing the gain line, lacking accuracy and the multiphase play they so crave, the tall lad in the scrum cap from Wellington College has had to adapt his game.