By Mitch Phillips
England centre Billy Twelvetrees could probably trademark the cliche of a “roller-coaster year” as he approaches the end of a remarkable 12 months of rugby back on a trajectory he hopes will remain upward all the way to the World Cup.
In February and March Twelvetrees was a Six Nations ever-present at inside centre, England’s most troublesome position for a decade, and his partnership with Luther Burrell looked to be the one that coach Stuart Lancaster would stick with through to next year’s World Cup on home soil.
Things did not go so well at his club Gloucester, however, who sacked coach Nigel Davies after a disappointing second half of the season with Twelvetrees failing to spark in a struggling team.
An ankle injury then ended his international run as he sat out the first test against New Zealand in June and when he returned for the second, short of sharpness, he took a lot of the blame for another England defeat and was left out of the squad altogether for the third.
Returning home with the criticism of his “headless” play and “walkabout moments” ringing in his ears, Twelvetrees was given an immediate lift by being named captain of Gloucester.
However, when Lancaster named his squads for the November internationals against New Zealand and then South Africa Twelvetrees was a notable absentee.
Even when Kyle Eastmond, who took his place in New Zealand, was jettisoned, Lancaster opted to have a look at Owen Farrell at inside centre, though the coach also re-opened the door for Twelvetrees with a place among the replacements.
Coming on in the second half he looked solid in defence and did enough to earn a start in Saturday’s game against Australia.
“We talked with Billy about finding consistency and the way he’s gone away and worked on his game has been really pleasing,” Lancaster told reporters on Thursday.
“He’s performing now to the level he showed in the Six Nations and he’s got a great opportunity to put a marker down for than number 12 shirt.”
Twelvetrees, who turned 26 this month, said that he had taken the advice to heart.
“It’s more a mental thing,” he told Reuters after being named in the starting XV. “Switching on in games and doing the right thing for the team.
“At centre you are involved in the game a lot so it’s about having positive involvement and for me that’s been about doing that week in, week out for Gloucester and now taking that opportunity with England.”
Asked how much of a setback it had been to be dropped on the New Zealand tour and then overlooked for the first two autumn internationals, Twelvetrees said he had taken it in his stride.
“I probably really wasn’t knocked at all — you get ups and downs throughout your career,” he said.
“I didn’t play as well as I could in New Zealand but it’s a very positive environment here and my confidence is still high. You always back yourself. I enjoyed playing with Luther in the Six Nations and we played some good rugby.
“I just need to concentrate on doing what I do best — helping the 10, bossing the forwards, getting the ball in my hands, putting players in space and getting the kicking strategy right.
“As a team we’ve got to be smarter. It’s been hard for the backs in the last few weeks because of the weather but to beat teams like Australia we need to play a high tempo brand of rugby.” “For me — and for the team — it’s all about this weekend. It’s a great opportunity”.