Billy Twelvetrees set to miss England's tour of New Zealand
The centre was injured his ankle during Gloucester's league victory over London Irish last weekend
Even if England find themselves a half-decent hooker for the opening Test against the All Blacks in Auckland in 29 days' time – a very big "if", thanks to an injury list of plague-like proportions – they may not have a midfield capable of maximising the possession he gives them from scrum and line-out.
Billy Twelvetrees, the key figure in the red-rose attack, will not recover from his ankle problems for at least a month and is therefore likely to miss the entire three-Test tour.
Twelvetrees was crocked during Gloucester's league victory over London Irish last weekend and his club coach, Nigel Davies, is already talking of "a full summer's rest" for his leading centre. "It looks as though it will take Billy between four and six weeks to get right, so it's not great for him," said the Welshman. "It's not ligaments, it's a relatively minor injury and it doesn't need surgical intervention at this stage, and as people heal at different rates, there's a chance he could play a part. But he's had a long period of rugby, so this gives him the opportunity to have a good pre-season and hit the next league campaign on top form."
Stuart Lancaster, the England coach, will not consider taking Twelvetrees to the world champions' lair unless he has a realistic chance of making the second Test in Dunedin on 14 June.
The latest prognosis suggests this is highly unlikely. Depending on which clubs make it through to the Premiership final at Twickenham three weeks on Saturday, Lancaster will choose between Brad Barritt of Saracens, Luther Burrell of Northampton, Manu Tuilagi of Leicester and, perhaps, Kyle Eastmond of Bath for the game in Auckland, where the All Blacks last lost in 1994.
Talking of Tuilagi, two of the human bowling ball's older brothers – 33-year-old Alesana and 27-year-old Anitelea – will join him in the Premiership next term after agreeing terms with Newcastle, a struggling team in dire need of an attacking edge.
Alesana, a big hit for Leicester before his departure for Japan in 2012, may be a player in decline, but he still takes some stopping from close range. The less celebrated Anitelea, who spent three years at Sale, will join from Newport Gwent Dragons.
Back on the international front, Wales are to hold a first full-blown trial match in 14 years ahead of next month's visit to South Africa. Warren Gatland, the head coach, has sanctioned an old-style Probables v Possibles fixture, to be played at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea on 30 May, believing it could aid selection in both the short and long term.
"It will enable us to work with the extended squad and see players operate in our environment as we ramp up preparations for next year's World Cup," Gatland explained. "Also, it's important we don't travel cold to South Africa. The Springboks will be immersed in Super 15 rugby right up to the tour. Without this game, our players would not have been on the field for four or five weeks."
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