Twelvetrees gives Johnson food for thought in Saxons' feast of tries

England Saxons 87 United States 8
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The Independent Online

Four years ago, after his excruciating experience at the last World Cup, the Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan knew he would have to go a very long way to find a side capable of making him feel worse about life. So he went to the United States, which turns out to have been precisely the right distance. Three months shy of the next global gathering in All Black country, American rugby appears to be retreating at the same rate as their scrum – which is to say, very quickly indeed. One way or another, the States are in a state.

How O'Sullivan must be dreading his team's opening World Cup match in New Plymouth on 11 September, which just happens to be against a revitalised Ireland playing approximately 100 per cent better than in 2007. If a Saxons back division with barely a full cap between them can rattle along at a point a minute, what miseries might Brian O'Driscoll and Jonathan Sexton inflict upon the land of the free – or, in pure rugby terms, the free ride?

It is only fair to point out that a quintet of front-line US players are absent from this Churchill Cup squad, who have the dubious pleasure of facing Tonga in 48 hours' time, but O'Sullivan could have fielded the five brothers from Thunderbirds at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday and still lost by a landslide. To score a try, the Saxons merely had to win the ball. As they won lots of ball, they scored lots of tries.

Even Matt Stevens, a paragon of diplomacy before his two-year ban for drug abuse and close to word perfect since his return to the professional game, described it as a "runaround", adding: "The US played with a lot of heart, but they didn't give us the kind of test we can expect when we play the Tongans." Stevens made a horrible mess of the Eagles' set-piece, but, while he needed stitches in a gash above his right eye, this could not begin to disguise the nature of the non-contest. "An accidental clash of heads at a line-out," explained the Saracens prop.

Injuries were by some distance the worst things that happened to England's vibrant young second-string. James Gaskell, the Sale flanker, withdrew after 14 minutes with a neck problem; Joe Gray, the Harlequins hooker, had more serious issues in the same neck of the woods, so to speak, and needed a long spell of on-field treatment before leaving on a stretcher. Happily, he was up and about within minutes of the final whistle.

Everything else was hunky-dory. Henry Trinder, highly effective in the Gloucester midfield throughout the Premiership campaign, repeatedly caught the eye as the Saxons set about reducing their opponents to dust, but it was Billy Twelvetrees, his fellow centre, who made the most of the many opportunities that came his way. His distribution at pace off either hand was startlingly good: indeed, some of it was straight out of the Juan Martin Hernandez Guide to Stellar Rugby, although the Argentine maestro's signature passes succeeded in unpicking proper defences rather than paper ones.

The 22-year-old Leicester player can also boast a decent kicking game, not to mention a set of vital statistics that makes size-obsessed selectors like the England manager Martin Johnson sit up and take notice. So there you have it, in a nutshell: big, talented, versatile – Twelvetrees can play in any one of three positions – and a Tiger to boot. As Johnson might soon say, assuming he hasn't already: "What's not to like?"


England Saxons: Tries Benjamin 3, Brown 2, Young, penalty try, Johnson, Twelvetrees, Trinder, Sharples, Kitchener, Hodgson; Conversions Clegg 11.

United States: Try Lavalla; Penalty Enosa.