Billy Twelvetrees has been ever present in the England squad since making his international debut at the start of 2013. His cap tally is now in double figures and the Gloucester playmaker was the only centre to start more than five England games last year. Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Jonathan Joseph and Kyle Eastmond played alongside Twelvetrees in England’s midfield in 2013 but he is very much enjoying his current partnership with Northampton Saints star Luther Burrell.
“The combination has been working well on the pitch and it’s been really loud between myself, Luther and Owen. Luther’s been brilliant since he’s come in and I’m looking forward to hopefully playing alongside him again.”
Both players, along with the other thirteen starters of England’s opening two Six Nations fixtures, have been kept in the England camp this week, a strong indication that Stuart Lancaster will name an unchanged line up for their next outing against an unbeaten Ireland side. If this happens, Twelvetrees and Burrell are likely to be up against Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll, who have played for Ireland together 53 times, a world record for a centre partnership, and boast an almighty 206 Ireland caps between them.
Whilst his admiration for the Leinster pair is clearly evident, the former Leicester Tiger is not focusing too heavily on the make-up of England’s next opponents.
“O’Driscoll and D’Arcy in the centres together are a massive threat to any team and they’ve proved that over the years,” he said. “Their backline and whole team is a very classy outfit. We’ve got to concentrate on what we can do to nullify the threats of Ireland. We’ve got full respect for what they’ve achieved but we’ve got to concentrate on our own game – I don’t think you can get too caught up with who is opposite you.”
There were some promising aspects of England’s back play against Scotland. Twelvetrees firmly believes the hard work on the training field is paying dividends and the backline is being more clinical in attack than it was in the autumn.
“We wanted to improve our decision making and execution when we have ball in hand. We’ve got such dangerous finishers in our back three and we want to get them the ball as much as possible.”
At Murrayfield, the efforts of Danny Care, Owen Farrell and Twelvetrees allowed wingers Jonny May and Jack Nowell to show glimpses of their excellent form in this year’s Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup. Both Mike Brown and Luther Burrell scored tries for the second consecutive game and Twelvetrees himself was the catalyst for one of May’s breaks when early in the second half he threw a well-timed, flat pass, which allowed his club teammate to go on a surging run, before being stopped inches before the line, agonisingly close to his first test try.
But such is the current competition for places that Twelvetrees is already in a tough battle to hold onto his place in the England team. It could get even harder if the rumours surrounding England’s Rugby League star Sam Burgess, and a possible cross code move to union, are true. What does Twelvetrees make of the speculation?
“He’s a massive character in league and you look up to people like that. He showed the quality of player is for England in the Rugby League World Cup. If he comes to union it’s potentially a great opportunity for him, England and the Premiership.”
Would he mind the additional competition at inside centre?
“You relish the opportunity to play with good players. But there are several centres for England to pick from in the Premiership and you’d be stupid to get too comfortable with your place, even now.”
When asked about the possibility of England winning a Triple Crown or Six Nations title this year, you sense even more that Twelvetrees is not thinking too far into the future.
“We’re completely focusing on Ireland. It would be silly to look much further than that. We’ve won one and lost one. It’s going to require a huge effort at Twickenham to get a result. We’re focusing on what we can do as a team and play as well as we can.”
Despite the fixture being in London, given Ireland’s start to this year’s Championship England will have the work cut out against a side that has yet to concede a try in this year’s Six Nations.
Twelvetrees and the rest of England’s backs will need another improved performance but he is clearly excited, not daunted, about his next challenge. England’s young midfield versus Ireland’s old guard should be one of many fascinating sub plots to what should be a special Six Nations contest.
By Alastair Pickering (founder of @FollowRugbySite)
Get behind-the-scenes news from Billy Twelvetrees and his England team-mates with Inside Line, the weekly show from O2 in partnership with England Rugby, at www.O2InsideLine.com
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images