Billy Twelvetrees recently started his 100th match for Gloucester Rugby. His curly locks have been a familiar and regular sight since he was signed by Bryan Redpath for the start of the 2012-13 season, and while others have left to try and pursue success and silverware at other clubs – not unusual I might add – Twelvetrees has adopted the stance that if he stayed put, success would come to him. He had the joy of being club captain for the Challenge Cup win 18 months ago, but spend any time in conversation with the 28 year old and his frustration at that modest return is very clear.
“Winning the Challenge Cup made it a nice weekend, but that’s all it was” Twelvetrees said. “It was a poor game but it doesn’t matter in a final as long as you win. From a player’s point of view though, how you think about a season is where you finish in the Premiership – that really is the be all and end all, and the trophy put a gloss on a disappointing season. Last year was pretty similar, and although I think we have come on massively as players, every other team has improved as well, and for whatever reason their improvement has been greater than ours.”
I was reminded the other day of Sir Clive Woodward’s “TCUP” acronym, in other words, “thinking clearly under pressure”. In his World Cup winning team, he had men who repeatedly made the right calls, and drove straight through the red mist when it enveloped others. A debate over whether it is easier to do that in a tournament compared to a long club season can wait for another day, but Twelvetrees admits the mental side of the game is now a huge factor.
“Delivering week in week out is down to the top two inches in our heads” he went on. “The top teams close games out. We did it at Sale, but didn’t against Leicester at home and Northampton away when we were in good positions, and that shows in the league table. There is no shying away from the fact that we haven’t performed in terms of results. Ahead of the season we were positive and proactive in the way we approached things and from a playing perspective we have been calm with what we need to do. When we’ve lost we’ve never been soundly beaten, and if you speak to any of the other players we think we can win every game. That’s the way we are. We have huge self belief, and it’s about delivering that for 80 minutes.”
Twelvetrees has been out of international rugby for a year – the last of his 22 England caps was before last year’s World Cup – and he confesses he doesn’t know what the future holds. Playing in a confident team at club level tends to be reflected internationally, which is what happened in his first season here at Kingsholm.
Roll the clock forwards, and that spotlight switched to the likes of Ford, Joseph and Watson at Bath in 2014-15 and then to Saracens last season as they won the Champions Cup. Twelvetrees remains ambitious but refutes any idea that being at Gloucester has hampered his England chances, reflecting with typical honesty that his personal performances have not been to the standard he would have liked.
The Premiership standings now look a little healthier, with Gloucester up to eighth and within touching distance of the top half of the table. It’s Harlequins next on December 27th, followed by home games against Northampton and Worcester.
“Greig Laidlaw and I both said if we had won at Northampton earlier in the season it would have propelled us forward significantly” Twelvetrees concluded. “We were devastated to lose there. Our only thought from the three games is three wins.”
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