LONDON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Billy Twelvetrees has spent a lifetime talking about his unlikely surname but now he is about to win his first England cap he will hope the novelty fades and he will become notable for his performances in test rugby.
Even on the day he was named in an England team for the first time, reporters at England’s training base on Thursday could not help asking if it was true that the 24-year-old Gloucester centre’s father really was a tree surgeon.
“Yes, customers usually can’t believe it,” he said. “I never really thought it was that funny but I suppose it is.”
It is all old hat to coach Stuart Lancaster, however, who has worked with Twelvetrees for years and had no hesitation in turning to him after Manu Tuilagi was ruled out of Saturday’s Six Nations game against Scotland with an ankle injury.
“This is a great opportunity for Billy,” Lancaster said after naming him at inside centre and switching Brad Barritt to the 13 position.
“I coached him in the Churchill Cup. It was a winning side, he played 12 and I could see then he had lots of potential and physicality. I have every confidence in him going into the game.”
It is Twelvetrees’ confidence in himself that has opened the England door, a confidence developed after finally getting regular Premiership rugby under his belt at Gloucester having moved from Leicester at the start of the season.
Big and strong, Twelvetrees also possesses a sharp pass - honed from many games playing flyhalf, good movement and a strong kicking game, a rarity in England’s midfield for many years.
He was drafted into the England squad as injury cover for the November internationals and showed enough there, and back in the red and white of Gloucester, to earn a place in the Elite Player Squad announced by Lancaster earlier this month.
“Playing week in week out alongside good players in a very competitive Premiership helps but getting in the EPS squad that really confirms your worth,” Twelvetrees said.
”That really gave me the confidence but I wanted to build on that and get into the team. You don’t get much training time here so you have to prove yourself.
“I‘m very aware of Manu not being there but you get opportunities through injuries, sometimes, and then you have to make it the shirt your own, you have to impose yourself on the game, so I have to get my hands on the ball.”
Twelvetrees has his mother to thank not only for his unusual name - his father opted to take her rare surname when they were married - but for his introduction to rugby.
While his dad spent his Sunday’s racing motorbikes, Mrs Twelvetrees was taking Billy and his three older brothers to his local club in Sussex.
”They used to beat me up a lot and that probably toughened me up,“ he said. ”It was always very competitive.
After a brief spell at the Leicester academy he caught the eye, and hogged the headlines, when playing for Bedford and the Tigers quickly realised their mistake and re-signed him.
Despite some cameo appearances for the star-studded club, he struggled to find regular game-time, though he did collect a new nickname thanks to the club’s Ireland back Geordan Murphy who christened him “36”, that being the sum of “twelve threes” delivered in Murphy’s broad brogue.
The shift to Gloucester propelled him to a new level, with Freddie Burns, who won his England first cap in the December win over New Zealand, inside him at 10 and the country’s vastly experienced World Cup winning centre Mike Tindall at 13.
”Those partnerships and combinations have been great and I think sometimes relationships are under-estimated,“ Twelvetrees said. ”You have to understand your flyhalf and hopefully that will grow with Owen (Farrell).
“When I was at Bedford I always wanted to play 12, Leicester probably always wanted it but because I can kick and pass and enjoy that I’ve slotted in at 10 and 13 to help the team out. But 12 feels natural to me and that’s the position I want to nail down.”
Editing by John Mehaffey