For the last ten years the home nations have struggled to produce many world class inside centres. Only Jamie Roberts (in 2009) has really set down an international marker to show the rest of the world that there is talent in this position within the British Isles.
Many have come and gone over the years, most notably in Scotland and England. Scotland have tried the likes of Graeme Morrison, Rob Dewey, Andy Henderson and even Sean Lamont in the lynchpin position. Frank Hadden and Andy Robinson preferred a bigger ball-carrying 12, similar to Roberts, but all failed in the passing aspect of the position where Roberts has found the correct balance of brawn and brain. In England certain names crop up such as Shontayne Hape, Riki Flutey, Jamie Noone and Olly Barkley but again none have set the world alight. Flutey was a strong all-round centre who could offer a lot but being so injury prone and being capped at the age of 28 he wasn’t going to be around for very long.
In Wales and Ireland there haven’t been many changes. Roberts has been the go-to-guy in Red and in Ireland Gordon D’Arcy has been the man who has dominated the position.
He has been a shining light for Ireland for many years and around 2006 and 2007 was one of the top performers in Europe. His partnership with Brian O’Driscoll has been set in stone for club and country for many years – but did he ever make a real impact on the global stage?
So who stands in these positions for each of the four nations now? And who is the person to play in the pivotal role in the future?
With the World Cup a year away the number 12 position has suddenly become a very competitive and prosperous position within the home nations.
In Scotland, Matt Scott is the man to answer the midfield question. He came of age in the Italy match in last year’s Six Nations and has cemented his place since with impressive performances, notably against South Africa and Italy. Scott has gone from playing for Scottish club side Currie at the start of 2011 to a nailed-on selection in the Scottish backline in just a year and a half, and Warren Gatland even claimed that he was very close to calling him out to Australia as injury cover for the Lions.
The man he chose instead was Billy Twelvetrees. Twelvetrees may not have been in the form of his life over the autumn or even the start of this year’s championship but he is the man England have been looking for since losing Will Greenwood. He carries powerfully, putting his team on the front foot, and can distribute with precision and speed. He can also kick and slot into the first-receiver position if needed – he is the most complete centre that England has seen for some time. Luther Burrell is hot on his heels after an impressive opening tournament but I believe Twelvetrees offers more of an all-round game than Burrell.
In Ireland D’Arcy may still be in control of the jersey but Joe Schmidt should be looking to Luke Marshall as his future 12. Marshall made his debut in remarkable fashion in the loss to Scotland last year and announced his arrival with some beautiful lines in attack and a solid defence. He’s been hampered down by injury but the future certainly looks bright for him.
In Wales all the talk has been about Scott Williams and rightly so – Williams has been brilliant for Llanelli and deserves the plaudits he is receiving. He always made an impact from the bench over the last couple of years, but when given the start he had struggled. That is why I see Ashley Beck as the future prospect for Wales at 12. His first start against Australia in the summer of 2012 is testament to this and he performed admirably. He has yet to disappoint in a Wales jersey but his opportunities have been drastically limited by injuries. It’s a shame to realise how far Beck would have progressed had he not been so unlucky with injuries.
Twelvetrees, Scott, Marshall, Beck. These are the four names that we will be hearing more and more over the coming years and it’s an exciting prospect.
By Finlay MacLeod