Six Nations 2014: Jamie Roberts duel presents few surprises for Billy Twelvetrees

Inside centres will go head-to-head when England play Wales at Twickenham

Billy Twelvetrees knew all about the unpredictability of the French midfield as England embarked on their Six Nations campaign in Paris last month, so when the brilliant young Toulouse centre Gaël Fickou reduced the red rose cover defence to a state of advanced discombobulation in the closing seconds – his match-winning try remains the most memorable individual act of the tournament to date – the Gloucester man was distraught, but not wholly surprised. By contrast, he knows precisely what to expect from Wales this weekend. Not that it will make life any easier.

Twelvetrees is about to come face to face with Jamie Roberts, the British and Irish Lions' first-choice inside centre in South Africa in 2009, and again in Australia last summer: the clearest possible indication of the esteem in which the Welshman is held at international level.

His reputation in this most confrontational of team sports is built on twin foundations: sheer physical size – at 6ft 4in and well over 17st, he could easily cut it as a back-five forward – and an ability to run hard and straight at a considerable rate of knots. While Fickou flies, Roberts flattens.

If Twelvetrees is himself built on a scale significantly more substantial than England's centres of old – you could scour the earth and struggle to find a 6ft 3in midget – his ability to stand tall and firm in the face of serious poundage has not always convinced the tougher-minded members of the coaching fraternity.

During his spell at Leicester, he was considered a little soft (although in fairness to him, Attila the Hun would have been considered too conciliatory at Welford Road); during his time with England, he has had to work hard to convince Andy Farrell, the defence strategist, of his value when it comes to manning the barricades.

Yet in the victory over Ireland at Twickenham 12 days ago, he tackled his heart out, recovering from an early slip against a pumped-up Brian O'Driscoll to play a leading role in a determined defensive effort.

If Twelvetrees emerges in one piece from his tangle with Roberts on Sunday – a very different kind of examination, if not a particularly complex one – he will take a big stride towards securing his place in England's squad for next year's World Cup.

"In a sense, nothing changes, because in modern rugby you have big guys running at you all day long," he said. "I've never faced Jamie in a match, even at club level, but in terms of physicality I think this will be the biggest challenge I've faced."

It was no mean statement, given his head-on meeting with the formidable All Black midfielder Ma'a Nonu before Christmas.

"Jamie has shown over the years that he's a top-class player and a good professional – one of the people you look up to," said Twelvetrees. "We know what's coming, so it's important for us to get ourselves on the front foot straight away. Rugby is a battle, mentally as well as physically, so we need to deal with the situation by making dominant tackles. I think we did that against Ireland, particularly when we were under pressure towards the end and managed to stay connected, stay in the system and stay switched-on."

In Wallaby country nine months ago, the Lions summoned Twelvetrees from red-rose business in Argentina when Roberts broke down with injury. The Englishman took what he could from the experience, despite being a bit-part player, and returned home with a clearer idea of the demands of the union game at its top end.

He also had a ringside seat for one of the great controversies of the trip: the decision of the tourists' coach, Warren Gatland, to drop the sainted O'Driscoll from the final Test in Sydney; pick one Welsh centre, Jonathan Davies, in his place; and choose another, the fully recovered Roberts, as his partner.

The roles will be reversed at Twickenham, where Davies will be the one fast-tracked into the Wales midfield after injury, alongside Roberts, who is mining a rich seam of form. "I think a lot of players in the Lions squad regarded Jonathan as one of the outstanding players on the trip," said Twelvetrees, who, it seems, was not as flabbergasted as some by Gatland's bold call in selection. "He deserved his place in the side. He's an excellent defender with a very strong left-footed kicking game."

Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, has confirmed that the Exeter back-rower Tom Johnson, outstanding in his club's Premiership victory over London Irish last weekend, would fill the vacancy on the bench caused by Billy Vunipola's ankle injury and the promotion of Ben Morgan to the starting line-up at No 8.

Two players, the Wasps prop Matt Mullan and the Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi, will continue to train with the 23-man squad.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick