Billy Twelvetrees blooming under approving gaze of England coach Stuart Lancaster
England prepare to open Six Nations campaign against Scotland
Billy Twelvetrees: undeniably a great name for the son of – ahem – a tree surgeon. "I never really thought about it as being funny," confessed England's new centre, the man who may eventually solve the mysteries of the midfield universe after a decade of red-rose befuddlement. "But it is."
The 24-year-old Gloucester player's promotion to the national team for Saturday's Six Nations opener with Scotland reinforces two current facts of England life: that a regular starting place at Premiership level is a vital part of the career path, and that good deeds performed on Stuart Lancaster's watch rarely go unrewarded.
By moving from Leicester to Kingsholm at the end of last season, Twelvetrees found a way of putting himself in the public eye. By playing brilliantly for the second-string England Saxons in the 2011 Churchill Cup tournament, he imprinted himself on Lancaster's retina.
"I first coached Billy in that competition and it was easy to see his potential," the England coach said. "But you need to build consistency by playing regularly and Gloucester have given him the opportunity and helped him develop confidence.
"I think the turning point with him was being named in the Elite Player Squad last month. That was a big thing, because it allowed him to be himself. In the autumn, he was training with us as cover. Now, you can see a change in his body language, in the way he communicates and controls people around him. He feels comfortable."
Twelvetrees agreed wholeheartedly with all of that analysis. "Playing week in and week out in a very competitive Premiership will help any individual," he said, "and it's true that when I was named in the squad, it confirmed to me that I was worthy of playing rugby at this level. Being seen as one of the very best players in England? It's the stage you want to reach. And when we got together in camp, I thought: 'Right, this is the time to really nail it. There are no excuses now.'"
Although he has played a good deal of rugby in the outside-half position, Twelvetrees decided early that if he was going to make a name for himself, it would be in the inside centre role. And with good reason. A mad rugby scientist attempting to create union-playing life in some weird underground laboratory would struggle to come up with a better skill-set than the one naturally bestowed upon the new No 12.
Another of Twelvetrees' early decisions was to throw everything at playing rugby for his country. The catalyst? England's defeat on Grand Slam day in the inaugural Six Nations tournament, 13 years ago. Their conquerors on that occasion? That would be Scotland.
"I was playing myself the same afternoon, so I recorded the game and watched it later," he recalled of Scotland's 19-13 victory at Murrayfield in 2000. "I was devastated when England lost, absolutely gutted, and it's always been a memory for me. I decided then that my ambition was to play in a Six Nations match."
Name game: Mum's the word
By rights, it should be "Billy Fentiman" making his England debut on Saturday, not the Billy Twelvetrees that will be listed in the programme.
The name comes from the Gloucester centre's mother, Beverley, after his parents broke with tradition to share the wife's name. Billy's father, originally Kevin Fentiman, plies his trade as a tree surgeon in West Sussex, and hoped the surname would help business.
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