News hit the British Isles last night that Billy Twelvetrees was to be called up to the Lions squad as cover for the Centre and Out Half positions. To many outside of England, and people who don’t follow the Aviva Premiership, the name, as outstanding as it is, will be a new one, having only secured his fifth International cap during England’s recent tour demolition of Argentina (32-3).
At the moment Gatland’s injury concerns, apart from Bowe’s hand, seems to be focused on the midfield with Owen Farrell suffering from a dead leg and Jonathan Sexton a tight hamstring, while centre Manu Tuilagi suffered a stinger in the victory over Queensland Reds. The Gloucester man will be the fourth player to be called up by the Lions following the late arrivals on tour of loose head props Alex Corbisiero and Ryan Grant and Ireland wing Simon Zebo. Twelvetrees has not been called up as cover for any one player, but to give head Coach Warren Gatland additional options and ease the work-load on the fit members of the back division.
For many the man they call “36” (which is twelve times three, get it?) would not have been the obvious choice, at least not to me. Before the tour began and after the squad was announced the choice of only two out halves was an area of concern, Sexton and Farrell would have to be fit and togged out for every single game on the tour. Many would say it’s no surprise that the two are already suffering from fatigue related injuries.
So what were/are Gatland’s out half options? Wales fans would say Dan Biggar is the obvious choice. He is familiar with Gatland’s game plans and is used to focussing on out half distribution duties, while surrendering kicking duties to the mesmeric Leigh Halfpenny. There is also the added advantage of International and tour experience when calling up Biggar.
A short hop across the Irish Sea and the name of Ian Madigan, currently touring the U.S, will stand out. He has covered the 10-12 channel on many occasions for Leinster and, while lacking in international experience, certainly loves games on the big stage and is no shrinking violet, having performed well for Leinster in the early and final rounds of successful Rabo and Amlin Cup victories with a Season points total well over 200.
So what makes Twelvetrees stand out? On his third start for the Saxons, he not only scored his maiden try, one of England’s 13 in the opening Churchill Cup game against the USA at Northampton in June 2011 but was also man of the match. Eight days later, he gathered at pace a right-footed grubber kick by Jordan Crane for his second try in the 41-14 win over Tonga at Kingsholm. By then, he had appeared in 15 Premiership games for Leicester Tigers, scored 85 points and also proved his worth as a more than useful goal-kicker. In his 6 Nations debut against Scotland, Twelvetrees and Brad Barrit shored up defence with some remarkable tackling and carried a note worthy 76 metres. He completes an average of 85% of his tackles and carries an average 76 metres a game. This is what Gatland likes in a back. Someone big, who can carry, get hit, get up and tackle again. So how is his boot? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Twelvetrees is unlikely to start for the Lions but may feature in a club game or could come off the bench later on in the tour. Still it is a great honour to be called up to the Lions and we wish him the best of luck.