- Billy Twelvetrees talks to RFUtv about playing as an international centre
- “You need to do everything as a centre nowadays” – Twelvetrees
Manu Tuilagi scored a typically blockbusting try on England’s last visit to the Stade de France but with the hulking centre – and his replacement for the QBE Internationals Joel Tomkins – ruled out with injury, Stuart Lancaster has decisions to make on the composition of his midfield.
Recent injury returnee Brad Barritt started alongside Tuilagi for that famous 24-22 victory over France in 2012 and he is competing with Billy Twelvetrees, Kyle Eastmond and Luther Burrell for the two centre positions for the RBS 6 Nations opener in Paris next Saturday.
The quartet all play at No.12 for their respective clubs but Twelvetrees, who has started the last four England Tests he has been available for at inside centre (only missing the second Test in Argentina due to a Lions call-up), believes the all-encompassing roles of modern international centres mean it is merely “a number on your back” and not representative of different demands on the field.
Photo: Getty Images
You need to do everything as a centre nowadays, I don’t think there is a defined role,” said the 25-year-old Gloucester man.
“The game has expanded so much for 12s and 13s that you find yourself split on the field all the time so you’re doing each other’s roles. It’s only a number on your back and while you have different roles in the team, you need to do everything in terms of kicking, passing, running and tackling.
“The boys here [with England] have such good skill sets and the competition for places means that anyone can play anywhere.”
And that flexibility must extend to the mentality on the field to avoid rigidity in the game plan, as Twelvetrees continued: “It [play from centre] all depends on the game scenario at the time, the conditions, the team you’re playing against and what needs to happen at the time.
“You can’t go into a game thinking I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, I’m going to carry today or I’m going to pass it. You have to make the right decision at the right time for the team.”
The former Leicester Tiger made his Test debut in the RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland this time last year, starting with Barritt at outside centre for the 38-18 victory at Twickenham.
The off-loading, high-tempo performance was considered by many to be England’s most fluid attacking display under Lancaster, quite a feat considering the team had also put 38 points on world champions New Zealand two months earlier.
Photo: Getty Images
Twelvetrees also scored a try, running a sharp line to collect Ben Youngs’ fizzing delivery and crash over, and understandably remembers the game as a “proud moment in his career”. However, he says he has matured as a personality around the England camp and feels ready to impose himself even further.
Self-assurance is of immeasurable value in a position where communication is so pivotal and Twelvetrees added: “I’m probably more confident in myself and in the surroundings of the boys and the coaches here.
“I’ve come out of my shell more and can be more influential on the pitch and off it. The boys are fantastic and we’ve got a great opportunity with this group of players to go somewhere far.”
Discussing the performances of England’s backline during last autumn’s QBE Internationals, when the team secured wins over Australia and Argentina before narrowly losing out to New Zealand, Twelvetrees pinpointed precision on first-phase ball as the main area to improve.
“We need to keep being accurate in terms of what we do in the first phase stuff and as a backline we need to be clinical when we get opportunities, whether that is from counter-attack or turnover ball,” he added. “We want to strive to be the best in the world and to do that we have to be clinical on the pitch. We work hard in training to be accurate, which is what the coaches are always on to us about.”