Riddle of England’s best No 12 is still to be solved

Englands Billy Twelvetrees is back in the starting line-up for Saturday's clash with Australia at Twickenham.Englands Billy Twelvetrees is back in the starting line-up for Saturday's clash with Australia at Twickenham.
Englands Billy Twelvetrees is back in the starting line-up for Saturday's clash with Australia at Twickenham.
RECALLED Billy Twelvetrees 
still has the confidence to execute ambitious plays for England and insists his Dunedin nightmare will not thwart his style.

The Gloucester inside centre is named in the starting line-up to face Australia at Twickenham tomorrow, the first time he has taken the shirt since being dropped after a crucial clanger on the New Zealand tour this summer.

England were leading 10-6 against the world champions early in the second period when Twelvetrees’s loose offload went to ground and the All Blacks pounced to crucially change the course of the second Test.

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He subsequently lost his place in Stuart Lancaster’s first XV but is now, after coming off the bench in the win over Samoa, the third player in as many weeks to be tried in the problematic No 12 role. Given Kyle Eastmond, playing for Bath tonight, and Owen Farrell – who drops to the bench – have failed to take their shot, there is a clear chance for redemption awaiting.

Twelvetrees, 26, could, then, be tempted to play cautiously rather than risk another catastrophe but, despite admitting international football is “cut-throat”, he maintains his style has not been cramped.

“It hasn’t and I’ve shown that in Gloucester games,” he offered.

“If I think something’s on then I will back myself to do it. Rugby is all about decision-making – when to do things and when not to – and that’s what great players do very well and what the good teams do week-in, week-out.

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“I’m quite a positive person in my outlook on life; it’s an offload, it’s happened, they’ve scored but what can you do next? It’s got to be a positive thing.

“I was very disappointed at the time like any player that is dropped. But my whole pre-season at Gloucester was about making better decisions in games, being more positive where I can and making good impacts.”

Question marks must now be raised over Farrell’s international future, the fly-half who has been overlooked for the starting XV for the first time since June 2012 after under-performing against New Zealand, South Africa and –as a centre – Samoa.

George Ford, instead, remains at No 10 and will win his sixth cap after impressing against Samoa in what was his first Test start.

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If he shines again tomorrow, and with the queue lengthening to have a crack at inside centre, one of Lancaster’s mainstays could soon be squeezed out.

Bath’s Ford, 21, linked with Twelvetrees in his formative years at Leicester Tigers so there is familiarity in that partnership already for tomorrow.

However, there were of course more questions yesterday about his future team-mate Sam Burgess, the rugby league convert who debuts with Bath from the bench versus Harlequins tonight.

He remains touted as a potential No 12 for the 2015 World Cup although is likely to play back-row, too, for Bath. Asked where he thinks Burgess should feature, Ford said: “I haven’t been at the club the last couple of weeks, but the lads have said he’s looked really sharp in training and, knowing Sam as a guy, his drive and determination are unbelievable.

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“He will probably go back to the coaches at Bath and say, ‘This is where I want to play, it suits me best and this is where I think I can be most effective for the team’.

“A timescale for it is difficult but I can’t see it not being a success just because of the way he is.”

Elsewhere for England, Northampton Saints pair Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley take over from James Haskell and Rob Webber at flanker and hooker respectively.

HOW ENGLAND WILL LINE UP AGAINST AUSTRALIA: M Brown (Harlequins); A Watson (Bath), B Barritt (Saracens), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), J May (Gloucester); G Ford (Bath), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), D Attwood (Bath), C Lawes (Northampton), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Morgan (Gloucester).

Replacements: R Webber (Bath), M Mullan (Wasps), K Brookes (Newcastle), G Kruis (Saracens), J Haskell (Wasps), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), O Farrell (Saracens), M Yarde (Harlequins).