'Complete' lock Palmer key to new England
"There are two sides to Tom Palmer," begins James Haskell, with the mischievous air of someone who is about to reveal something he knows a team-mate will not thank him for.
"Tom has earned the nickname of 'Dexter' from the TV show," said the England flanker. "A lot of people are slightly unnerved by him. I think sometimes the silence and the quiet staring eyes can maybe be a bit intimidating."
Being compared to an anti-hero may not be what the England lock had in mind when discussing his own contribution to their opening Six Nations Championship win over Wales in Cardiff.
While Toby Flood collected the official man-of-the-match award and two-try scorer Chris Ashton garnered most of the headlines, Palmer's influence was arguably as great, if not greater.
Palmer took eight of 11 line-out catches against Wales - photo: Getty
Indeed, earlier this week England's notoriously hard-to-please forwards coach John Wells was heard describing the 31-year-old as "near enough the complete forward for the modern age".
"It is not often 'Wellsy' is complimentary towards players," says Palmer. "To be honest he often finds a few negatives that you need to work harder on."
The way the lock sees it though, this side don't need their coaches to tell them if they are going wrong. After a match where little appeared to for him personally, the floppy-fringed forward - he had a 'little trim' on his day off this week, but no-one noticed - remained underwhelmed.
"I watched the game back and I felt I played OK," Palmer said. "I am quite harsh on myself generally. It's obviously very nice to have these things written about me and have people appreciate what I am doing. But to me it doesn't feel like I am doing anything much different to what I have always done."
If he is an unlikely looking rugby hero, his role in the revival of England's fortunes over the past nine months has gone largely unheralded in the clamour over an exciting clutch of talented young thrusters.
But then you remember his deft offload to send Ashton on his way to his first Test try in the win over Australia in Sydney last June, and his turnover near the England posts which set in train the move that led to Ashton's memorable 90m run to glory against the same opponents at Twickenham in November.
"Tom is a model professional, extremely hard-working, and a great player, a real team man," adds Haskell, as he reflects on 'the other side' of his Stade Francais team-mate, before a few more tit-bits about England's new go-to man at the line-out emerge.
"His wife [Helen] is an amazing cook. She keeps me stocked up with brownies and cup cakes. For a while she had her own little sandwich business at Stade as Ollie Phillips (another of the English contingent at the cosmopolitan Parisian outfit) and I would pay Tom five euros a day to get a packed lunch. I'm sure the overheads were massive...Tom must have been raking it in."
If most England fans were unaware of Palmer's contribution to haute cuisine, his performance in Cardiff belatedly brought his talents to a wider audience.
It is easy to forget now that going into the Welsh encounter, England's line-out - denuded of Tom Croft and Courtney Lawes, and with Dylan Hartley's throwing put under the microscope by Warren Gatland - was considered a potential area of weakness.
In the event, England won 11 out of 12 on their own throw, the one that went astray occurring in the final minute when the match was won.
Palmer took eight of those 11 catches, the majority slap-bang in the middle of the line-out. Two throws went to Louis Deacon at the front, one to Tom Wood at the tail. In the absence of Croft, their main weapon previously, England kept things simple and were rewarded for their efficiency.
Palmer's thundering tackling against Wales caught the eye - photo: Reuters
"To be honest the Welsh made it quite easy for us by not marking me very hard," Palmer says. "That is why there was lots of ball thrown to me. Louis [Deacon] did a very good job calling the line-outs and saw where the space was. We just took the easy balls that were available to us."
Palmer shared the role of line-out caller with Croft during the summer tour of Australia and the autumn series, and Deacon's return to the side has given England another experienced hand in the aerial exchanges.
"You need people who are constantly feeding information back to the decision-makers," Palmer notes. "I am certainly one of the most experienced players in terms of years and I am fairly vocal. You have to be talking all the time at this level."
Palmer, who turns 32 a week after the end of the Championship, was not merely a rock-solid source of line-out possession.
His rampaging run into the heart of the Welsh defence in the build-up to Ashton's second try was one eye-catching moment. Another was the thundering hit that stopped Wales flanker Dan Lydiate dead in his tracks moments after the hosts had scored their solitary try to get the score back to 16-23.
His last major contribution as the game entered the final five minutes was to wrap up Lee Byrne in an enveloping tackle that resulted in the Wales full-back being penalised for holding on, and Jonny Wilkinson landing the match-clinching kick.
That was Palmer's 14th tackle of the game (Wood and Shontayne Hape topped the charts with 24 each apparently), but below his average of around 18 in the autumn Tests. "And in the summer in Australia I did about 22 in one game - that was my best," he adds, helpfully.
If his was an unusual route into the England team - from mini-rugby in Barnet, he spent part of his childhood in Kenya, represented New Zealand Schools after attending Otago Boys' High School in Dunedin, and played for Scotland's Under-19s and U21s after a spell at Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh - the Haringay-born forward's Test career stalled on the start line.
After making his debut against the United States 10 years ago as a 22-year-old while studying physics at Leeds University and turning out for the then-Tykes in National League One, he then disappeared off the radar for five years, only re-emerging during the final days of Andy Robinson's regime in November 2006.
His only previous outing against the Azzurri followed in the 2007 Six Nations, and after missing the last World Cup he was involved in Johnson's first games in charge in November 2008, only to miss the 2009 Six Nations through injury.
But since coming off the bench early in Paris at the end of last year's Six Nations, he has now started seven Tests in a row, by far his most productive run in the side.
"Compared to a lot of people my career is really kicking off late," he acknowledges. "Obviously I would have preferred for it to have happened when I was 25 or 26 but that is just the way things are." Injuries at key moments didn't help. "And England had a lot of very good second rows when I was a youngster," he points out. "That made it difficult as well."
One of them - Martin Johnson - and his coaches have been happy to tap into Palmer's inside knowledge of Italy's inspirational captain Sergio Parisse, another of his Stade Francais team-mates, this week in the build-up to Saturday's little set-to.
Palmer is reluctant to go into specifics, other than what is already widely known. "He is a good ball-carrier, a good defender, and a very skilful player. We will have to mark him hard."
Nick Mallett and his Azzurri coaches may be having similar conversations about Palmer.
England's silent assassin can sense his next victims.