BILLY Twelvetrees can handle the step up in pressure in Dublin – and deserves to keep his place in the England side, believes Stuart Lancaster.
Lancaster admitted Gloucester centre Twelvetrees’ try-scoring debut against Scotland last week showed he can thrive at international level.
The England boss said he would be comfortable selecting any combination of Twelvetrees, Brad Barritt and fit-again Manu Tuilagi.
But in the end the former Leeds coach conceded that Twelvetrees warranted a second start – as the man in both good form and possession of the shirt.
Hailing the 24-year-old’s composure, Lancaster backed Twelvetrees to handle taking on Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 3pm).
Ireland’s vastly experienced and accomplished midfield will pose an entirely new level of challenge for Twelvetrees – but Lancaster is unfazed.
England’s head coach explained: “When I told him he was in the side he took it in his stride and I think he will give another good account of himself in Dublin.
“He deserves to keep his place, as does Brad, who has been excellent for us over a sustained period of time.
“I could have gone with Brad and Manu, Billy and Manu or Billy and Brad.
“It’s a great problem to have, and we need as many difficult decisions like that as possible.
“The Billy-Brad partnership worked well against Scotland and it deserves to have another chance against Ireland.
“Billy had a great debut, he is very calm and he doesn’t let things faze him.”
Leicester’s wrecking-ball centre Tuilagi is fit for the first time in a month after ankle trouble.
The powerhouse line-breaker did not feature in England’s 38-18 victory over Scotland at Twickenham last weekend.
But debutant Twelvetrees and defensive fulcrum Barritt coped admirably in his absence.
Lancaster said while Tuilagi is ready for action, it would have been a brave call to send him into the fray from the off and expect him to stay the full course.
Instead he will be deployed as a second-half match-changing weapon from a bench stacked with experience.
England were outmuscled and out-thought in Ireland two years ago, slumping to a comprehensive defeat.
Lancaster has warned his players that if they fail to find the delicate mental balance to meet the Irish challenge, they will come unstuck in a flash.
Confident the rookie Twelvetrees can cope, Lancaster added: “If you are not up for it enough, it’s all over – if you’re up for it too much, it’s all over.
“It’s a very delicate balance playing Ireland in Dublin.
“It’s another new challenge for players like Billy, but he’ll be comfortable with that, as they all will.
“They understand the size of the task; we’ve been clear on that all week.”