For the most part, everything Billy Twelvetrees has done in an England shirt until now has been somewhere on a scale of solid to excellent. His debut against Scotland was a simply brilliant performance, and despite being somewhat inexplicably demoted to the bench following that game, he has backed it up with a few more decent showings for the Red Rose.
But sport can be a cruel mistress, and one bad game can lead to those who previously championed you as the answer to England’s centre woes to sharpen the knives and call for your head. Twelvetrees is astute enough to know this is the nature of professional sport, but also realises that his performance on Saturday was a long way from good enough. He admits as much, when asked if he was happy with his latest outing at Twickenham.
“No, personally probably not,” he answers. “There are lots of things to work on, and there were a few stupid errors that I’m fully aware of. I’ve reviewed it all with the coaches and put it right yesterday in training, and we’ve trained well today, so it’s put to bed now and we can always move on.
“Decisions are made quickly in the heat of the moment in the game, and if you make the wrong one you’ve just got to stick with it and go with it. If your execution isn’t right then it doesn’t look good.”
That was certainly the case at the weekend, when an inexperienced backline struggled to get going despite having a good platform to play off after the pack obliterated the Australians. So what have they been focussing on this week, heading into the Argentina test?
“Probably just a bit more continuity within the team, our shape and the pattern that we want to do things,” he says.
“We want to be a bit more confident, to go out and play a bit more rugby. We want to play at tempo, we want to play with a bit of pace, show what we’re about and score some tries, and I think it’s all about building confidence so we can apply it on the pitch.”
That all sounds good, but it certainly didn’t translate onto the pitch at the weekend. But then, perhaps we are being too critical. This time last year the Australians had beaten England, and as many a Welsh fan has pointed out, a victory over one of the Southern Hemisphere’s big three is nothing to be sniffed at. Twelvetrees confirms that the mood in the camp is certainly positive, after a morale-boosting win.
“It’s vital to start off any campaign with a win. It just builds confidence amongst the boys and it’s great for the coaches – hopefully it’ll kick start our autumn,” says the Gloucester centre. “It’s England v Australia, so it’s always going to be competitive, and getting one over the Aussies is always good.
“We were up against a really good Aussie side, who have been playing some good rugby, and have been together a while, since the Lions series and through the Rugby Championship, so they’ve gelled together well. So for us, having not been together since the Wales game in the Six Nations, it’s good to beat a formidable side like them.”
Despite his previous form with England, a tough start to the domestic campaign with Gloucester had seen many calling for other players to be given a go this autumn anyway. Luther Burrell at Northampton has added guile and distribution to his obvious power, while Kyle Eastmond’s dancing feet have earned him many an admirer. Twelvetrees says this kind of competition for places is exactly what England needs.
“I think it’s good [that] everyone’s playing really well,” he points out. “It only motivates you to do better as an individual.
“Everyone’s training here together and I’m fully aware of how good they are. The backline at the weekend probably didn’t perform at its best but I think we’ll put it right this weekend – we know where we went wrong, and hopefully we can put things right on the pitch when we get the opportunity.”
That is exactly what England fans will be hoping. All the evidence points to the Gloucester centre being far too good a player to back up a poor performance with another one. With plenty of other options available to Lancaster, however, it is time for Twelvetrees to put all these positive words into action. A stormer against Argentina, and everyone will forget his Australian malaise.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Get the latest behind-the-scenes news from Billy Twelvetrees and his England teammates with O2 Inside Line, the weekly show from O2 – proud sponsor of England Rugby – and the RFU, at www.O2InsideLine.com
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images