- Burns and Twelvetrees combination will thrive with England says Gloucester director of rugby
- Nigel Davies explains allure of Heineken Cup competition and season's aims
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Gloucester director of rugby Nigel Davies is adamant that Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees have the skill base and mutual understanding to thrive as part of England’s midfield this autumn.
The Kingsholm tyros enhanced their burgeoning reputations this summer, starring together as Stuart Lancaster’s side brushed aside the Barbarians at Twickenham before romping to an eye-catching 32-3 defeat of Argentina in Salta.
Centre Twelvetrees was then called up to the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia as injury cover, while Burns directed a dominant 51-26 England victory over the Pumas in the second Test at Velez Sarsfield from fly half, contributing 19 points including a well-taken try.
The creative duo now head into the Aviva Premiership campaign set on driving the Cherry and Whites towards a top-four berth, and Davies believes their off-season exploits will improve an already impressive partnership.
“The good thing is that the lads are still young,” explained the former Scarlets head coach, who won 29 caps for Wales between 1987 and 1997. “They’re still evolving and developing, which is important because they have a long way to go.
“International exposure always adds a different perspective – they’ve worked under some new coaches and with some new players. They will only get better.
“Taking those combinations into the Test arena helps. It’s a different level of pressure and intensity. Freddie and Billy complement each other as characters and they both have a good view of the game.
“Having played 10 early in my career before moving to 12, I know how important communication is. As a fly half, your field of vision can be very limited when the ball is coming out of the breakdown and you need an extra pair of eyes. That’s where Freddie and Billy work very well.
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“I’d like to see the link between them go further. They can work off each other – Freddie doesn’t always have to be first receiver. Billy can take that responsibility as well to allow them to threaten both sides of the ruck.
“Between them they can organise our game management and ensure we are playing in the right areas of the field. Defensively they have to take responsibility for the whole backline too.”
Although Twelvetrees made just two Lions appearances – a solitary start coming against the Brumbies in the only loss of the trip – his club boss is convinced he will have benefitted hugely from being in the company of seasoned performers such as Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll.
Indeed, suggesting Burns and Twelvetrees were “ready for the challenge” of facing the Wallabies in the first QBE International at Twickenham on November 2, Davies explained that a strong start in front of The Shed would give Lancaster a firm nudge.
Given Gloucester make another foray into the Heineken Cup this season – something they have prepared for with away friendlies in Toulon and Munster this month – there is certainly a lofty platform from which to reiterate their big-match credentials.
“One of the most disappointing things for me coming into this role at Gloucester last year was that we weren’t in the Heineken Cup,” Davies added. “The number one priority was getting back into the tournament, and now we have done that.
“Our preseason has been based around facing top quality opposition – we’ve travelled to Toulon and Munster to give us a taste of what it is going to be like. That was a great experience and now we can kick on.”
While Gloucester were overturned 42-17 by the Heineken Cup holders, Davies did not see the result as a disaster. Besides anything else, his fly half – who secured the Premiership golden boot last term with a haul of 240 points – had a chance to chat to a certain Jonny Wilkinson.
“Jonny is still in superb form, you have to say that. When we played Toulon, they were a week away from their first league fixture and we were just starting some contact work – they were better prepared in terms of that fixture.
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“Freddie will have learned a lot from playing against a team of that quality and I’m sure he picked Jonny’s brains as well. He’s a shrewd operator and is potentially the future for England.”
Another Gloucester youngster to make his international bow in South America was openside Matt Kvesic, who finalised his move from Worcester Warriors to Kingsholm after returning from Argentina.
Well renowned for his all-action displays – not least a 29-tackle Test debut – the 21 year-old has already made an impression on Davies.
“I’m delighted Matt decided to come to Gloucester. He’s an exceptionally talented player and his work around the breakdown is fantastic.
“He’s strong, powerful and quick – which makes him the perfect link between the backs and the forwards because of his running game. He is a real tough hombre and he’ll bring a good edge, for sure.”