Twelvetrees urged to take England chance
Rugby:Stuart Lancaster challenged Billy Twelvetrees to lay permanent claim to the England inside centre position when he makes his Test debut against Scotland on Saturday.
Twelvetrees (24) has taken over from the injured Manu Tuilagi and he will line up alongside Brad Barritt in a re-jigged England midfield.
Barritt will revert to the outside centre role he filled on his own Test debut in last year’s Calcutta Cup win at Murrayfield, with Twelvetrees operating on his inside.
Tuilagi is expected to be fit for England’s second RBS 6 Nations appointment, away at Ireland a week on Sunday, and Lancaster has urged Twelvetrees to give him a selection headache.
“This is a great opportunity for Billy,” Lancaster said. “I coached him in the Churchill Cup. It was a winning side, he played number 12 and I could see then he had lots of potential and physicality. Moving to Gloucester has been a big help. His confidence has shone through. I have every confidence in him going into the game.
“Sometimes opportunities present themselves in different ways. We know Manu is going to be fit for next week and we hope Billy puts a marker down this week and gives us another headache.”
Elsewhere, Joe Marler has returned at loosehead prop in place of Alex Corbisiero, who has been ruled out of the Six Nations with a knee problem.
Other than the two injury-enforced changes, Lancaster has retained the starting line-up that laid the foundations for England’s record 38-21 victory over New Zealand two months ago.
That means Tom Youngs keeps the hooker’s jersey ahead of the more experienced Dylan Hartley, who missed the autumn series through injury.
Ben Youngs has held off the challenge from Danny Care to keep hold of the scrumhalf position and Alex Goode returned from a shoulder injury in time to retain the full-back berth.
“Scrum-half is the position I spend the most time thinking about,” Lancaster said. “Ben Youngs gets the start this time and Danny will come off the bench but both will get their turn during the Six Nations. It was a tight call there and at hooker. Tom played very well in the autumn. Dylan comes back into the equation but I need to reward the player who is in the shirt.
“It’s not a given but Tom has been outstanding since the New Zealand game for Leicester both in the Premiership and in Europe.”
Marler was preferred to Mako Vunipola at loosehead and he returns to the front row having missed the last two matches through injury.
“He was oustanding for us on the summer tour of South Africa,” Lancaster said. “He went up against the most formidable pack in world rugby and more than held his own. His form for Harlequins has been excellent and that is a pre-requisite to playing for England.”
The presence of Hartley, Care and Toby Flood among the replacements means that England’s bench (230 caps) is more experienced that the starting team (191 caps).
England return to Twickenham for the first time since their record victory over the All Blacks.
“We always had self-belief, what that win did was confirm to those outside the team that we have a group of players who will fight for the shirt,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster dismissed accusations of arrogance that were levelled at the England team by former Scotland coach Jim Telfer.
“I don’t call celebrating a try showboating. It is not in our culture, it is not what we believe in,” he said. “It might have been in the past but that is no resemblance to the team I am working with. As head coach, I don’t want to be perceived as an arrogant person or an arrogant team. It might have been the case in the past but it is no resemblance to my team.”