Billy Twelvetrees has a name which headline writers dream about. His father (seriously) is a tree surgeon – but Kevin’s boy is less concerned about what you might do with your Leylandii, Poplar or Willow. His cutting tends to involve opposition defences on a rugby field.
On Saturday night in Argentina, Billy looked every bit the orchestrator as England left the Pumas in a purple haze to match their kit for 40 minutes. It was enough to secure the game with something to spare. Twelvetrees does not possess blistering pace, particularly high above sea level, but his speed of thought and care in execution was at the centre of England’s 32-3 win.
Twelvetrees marked his fifth cap with his second England try, and his link up play with his Gloucester team mate Freddie Burns at fly half will surely give coach Stuart Lancaster an increasingly difficult choice going forward. His preferred options so far have been Saracens pair Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt. It’s a club head to head which extends elsewhere too.
Number eight Ben Morgan – also at Gloucester – scored the second of England’s four tries, but he will have seen the impact made in a 12 minute cameo as a replacement by Billy Vunipola. His touchdown from the final play of the match was no surprise, given his bullocking runs that drew parallels for me with Jonah Lomu. Earlier in the tour Vunipola, who joins older brother Mako at Saracens next season, scored a hat trick of tries in only six minutes. Morgan probably did enough to keep his place for next Saturday’s second Test, but in Forumla 1 parlance he can see Vunipola filling his rear view mirrors.
The tour is, of course, taking place at the same time that the Lions are in Australia, with nine England players in the party. The fact that England can still put together a good squad from those left behind says much for the structure put in place between the RFU and the top clubs, albeit after a lot of thrashing out.
Two elite player groups are selected each summer – the main squad and the Saxons – with age group squads below that. There is a ceiling on the number of matches leading players are eligible to play, and while the cream of the talent is well rewarded we’re not talking telephone numbers or the Monopoly money available on other sports. Importantly too, the infrastructure is not ignored, and clubs accept that they will be without their internationals at certain points in the calendar.
It’s a contrast with the set up in the cash rich Premier League which,after England’s Under 21’s were eliminated at the group stages of the European Championship, has again come under scrutiny. The criticisms have been made before after the national team, at whatever level, has peformed poorly at a major tournament.
Too few English players appearing regularly in first team football ; too much of the money generated by the television deal going out of the game in wages ; too much power lying in the hands of the clubs.
At least now there is an FA National Football Centre at Burton, but the feeling among pundits I heard and read was that the desire for instant results would see little or no change. The necessary combination was a better coaching structure at a younger age, and a wider window for the better players to showcase their talents. The German teams have mainly German players, and it’s the same in Italy,
In the Premier League, only a third of players are English. Make a change now and it might take 10 years rather than 10 months to see much of an improvement, and there lies the nettle that needs to be grasped.
No man was better in such situations than the late Tom Walkinshaw, Chairman at Gloucester until his death in 2010 and Chairman of Premier Rugby between 1998 and 2002. He laid the ground for much of the agreement that exists today between the English RFU and the leading clubs. He didn’t please everyone but the balance was struck.
Balance was just what Billy Twelvetrees showed beautifullly on the field on Saturday. Coupled with Burns – whose own Twitter account claims he is a Colonel Gadaffi lookalike – you could say England have the Colonel and the General.
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