The Lions head coach Warren Gatland has reacted to a series of injuries affecting midfield players by calling up the gifted England inside centre Billy Twelvetrees, summoning him from the red rose tour of Argentina. The Gloucester back, one of the star turns in his country’s comprehensive victory over the Pumas in Salta last Sunday, will arrive in Australia on Friday and is likely to play an important part in proceedings over the next three weeks.
Twelvetrees, seen by many as the long-term to England’s problem position at No 12 because of his wide range of kicking and handling skills, can also play at outside-half – a significant point in his favour, given the fitness worries surrounding the two specialist No 10s in the British Isles party. Jonathan Sexton, the Irish playmaker who has long been a hot favourite to start the first Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane in nine days’ time, has a hamstring problem, while Owen Farrell, one of Twelvetrees’ colleagues at international level, suffered a “dead” leg in kicking the Lions to a memorable victory over the Queensland Reds.
One of the Lions centres, Manu Tuilagi, has also been in the wars. The Leicester player picked up a shoulder injury against the Reds last Saturday and failed to survive the first quarter of the game. Given that there are only four centres in the party – and only one inside specialist, in the shape of the Welsh player Jamie Roberts – the decision to send for Twelvetrees makes perfect sense.
“It is is in the nature of a Lions tour that there will inevitably be knocks from which players take time to recover,” Gatland said. “The whole squad have worked hard, but a lot of the backs have doubled up over the last two games, either starting or from the bench. Billy played well in the first Test for England and has the versatility to cover a variety of positions.”
Meanwhile, the England coach Stuart Lancaster responded with characteristic generosity after losing a second key player to Lions duty – the first being the influential loose-head prop Alex Corbisiero, who flew here last weekend as replacement for the injured Irish front-rower Cian Healy. “All the England players and management are delighted that Billy should have this great opportunity,” Lancaster said. “He’s played well for us this year and underlined that form with his display in Salta. He goes with our full support and blessing.”
With only half a dozen genuine midfielders in the entire 37-man party, the Lions have always looked light – especially at centre, which is one of the most attritional positions on the field. Even if Twelvetrees is not thrown into the potentially significant game against New South Wales Waratahs this weekend, he is likely to be involved when the Lions take on the dangerous ACT Brumbies in Canberra next Tuesday.