Twelvetrees ready to chop down some Scottish pines

New England centre Billy Twelvetrees scoring a try for Gloucester during the Amlin Challenge Cup match against Bordeaux-Begles in October.

New England centre Billy Twelvetrees scoring a try for Gloucester during the Amlin Challenge Cup match against Bordeaux-Begles in October.

Fri, Feb 1, 2013, 00:00

If anyone is equipped to chop down some swaying Scots pines at Twickenham it is surely Billy Twelvetrees, son of a tree surgeon from Sussex and the 18th new cap to be chosen by Stuart Lancaster in the past year.

Twelvetrees, naturally enough, will wear number 12 in a starting XV containing only two enforced changes to the side that beat New Zealand two months ago. Joe Marler, another son of Sussex, is back at loose-head prop instead of the injured Alex Corbisiero, while Twelvetrees owes his chance to Manu Tuilagi’s ankle problem.

England expect Tuilagi to be available for next week’s game in Ireland, at which point forests of “Twelvetrees axed” headlines will presumably find their way into print.

In many respects the 24-year-old Gloucester centre is exactly the kind of multi-dimensional player Lancaster is seeking.

Twelvetrees stands 6ft 3in, can kick, run, pass and tackle and, if required, thumps over huge penalty goals as well. Not many new caps turn up with such a colourfully broad palette of skills.

Matching self-belief

He also now possesses the matching self-belief, having benefited from regular rugby at Gloucester since switching from Leicester last summer. His desire to move did not go down well with the Tigers at the time but it looks an even shrewder decision now. There is certainly no doubt in Lancaster’s mind.

“I first coached Billy in the Saxons at the Churchill Cup and you could see the potential in him. What he needed to develop was the consistency you get from playing regularly in Premiership and European rugby.

“I think being named in the 33-man squad has given him the confidence to kick on. I’ve always wanted to have ball players in the back-line, as well as pace and physicality. Billy’s got an opportunity to demonstrate he’s got all three.”

Lancaster is not remotely bothered about naming players who, on paper, have less experience than some of their rivals. Tom Youngs, preferred at hooker to Dylan Hartley, also falls into that category but his consistent club form either side of Christmas has persuaded Lancaster to retain him.

The management have lectured the players this week on the importance of keeping their discipline, with Lancaster also buoyed by the findings of the review of the Rugby Football Union’s performance department conducted by Ian McGeechan and Peter Keen. The head coach’s position at Twickenham is now stronger than ever, quite a contrast from 12 months ago when he was installed on an interim basis. Crucially Lancaster will have a particularly big say in choosing the RFU’s proposed new head of international player development.

ENGLAND (v Scotland,Twickenham, tomorrow, 4pm): A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), B Barritt (Saracens), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), M Brown (Harlequins); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester), J Marler (Harlequins), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Morgan (Gloucester). Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), C Lawes (Northampton), J Haskell (Wasps), D Care (Harlequins), T Flood (Leicester), D Strettle (Saracens).

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