BILLY Twelvetrees has urged England to get stuck into golden oldie Brian O’Driscoll when England return to Six Nations action against Ireland next Saturday.
The rugby great, who boasts more Test caps than the entire Red Rose back line combined, is in his final season and is determined to finish his illustrious career on a high.
O’Driscoll’s midfield axis with Gordon D’Arcy is the most capped partnership in the history of the game. With 215 Tests between them the duo have defied their critics time after time.
But Gloucester star Twelvetrees is ready to take centre-stage alongside Luther Burrell as England bid to keep their Championship hopes alive in the make-or-break Twickenham clash.
Twelvetrees said: “It will be awesome to go up against Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy. I remember watching Brian as a youngster, he has an amazing amount of plaudits and rightly so. He’s been at the top end of the game for his entire career.
“He’s still a world class player and has shown that on the Lions tour and for Ireland in recent weeks. I have so much respect for him and what he can do with the ball.
“He’s a huge threat to any defence and we will have to keeping a close eye on him.
“But while we have full respect for what they can do, it’s a physical battle and you can’t get too caught up on who is opposite you.
“It’s been a really good start for our midfield partnership. It was disappointing to lose the first game but the combination is working well and it’s really loud on the pitch between Owen (Farrell), Luther and myself.
“He’s done brilliantly well since coming in – two tries in two games is a pretty good start. We’re putting in a lot of minutes off the field, working hard on the videos and it’s paying dividends so far.
“As a centre you have to read the game and different situations and both of us are quite reactive. We like to get our hands on the ball, running through holes and linking with the guys around us.
“It’s good to play with someone with a lot of confidence and I’m looking forward to doing that again.”
Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt wrapped O’Driscoll and co up as England conquered the Aviva Stadium last season and that experience, on just his second international outing, was undoubtedly a major confidence booster.
But he continued to take tips from the old master after being called up to the British and Irish tour of Australia in the summer.
He said: “We played them last year and dealt with them relatively well but they have huge threats all over the park.
“Brian’s a very calm character in the way he trains and has a huge amount of confidence and that’s worked for him so far in his career.
“He is one of the players I looked up to during the Lions tour and tried to learn from. It’s great to go up against these superstars of the game and I’m really looking forward to it.”
It is not just in the centres that Ireland boast a wealth of experience, with a combined cap count of the team that started against Wales, more than doubles that of Stuart Lancaster’s Scottish victors.
They included nine British and Irish Lions, in comparison to England’s three but Twelvetrees insists experience counts for little providing you are respectful of your opponents’ arsenal.
Lancaster called upon the Cherry and Whites ace to become more of a leader within the international set-up ahead of the tournament and it is a role he relishes.
He said: “We’ve all played against experienced players on the international stage and in Europe. We will have to be smart on the pitch to nullify Ireland’s threats but we have a huge amount of confidence within the side and the personal ability within it.
“We’re confident we can go anywhere and win and have the same attitude whether we are at Stade de France, Murrayfield or Twickenham. We want to win every game and aren’t scared of any opponent.
“From 1-15 everyone at this level is a natural leader. As a centre you have to be vocal, get your hands on the ball and boss people around. I love that responsibility with both England and Gloucester. I enjoy that aspect and want to carry it on.”
But having been bogged down by a Murrayfield mud-bath against Scotland, the 25-year-old knows England will have to rediscover their cutting edge after Ireland strangled the life out of Wales.
The reigning champions were blown away by Joe Schmidt’s men up front and their giant backs were continually shackled.
England ran in two tries in the Calcutta Cup triumph but Twelvetrees was disappointed by the number of wasted opportunities and an emphasis on killer instinct and Ireland’s infamous choke tackle has already been made in training.
He added: “Ireland will be very physical and tough, and they have a wealth of experience. They have hit the ground running, have been efficient and have two good wins.
“The choke tackle is something more and more teams are using at the moment to slow ball down or turn it over.
“It’s something we have nullified in the past, we dealt with it last year and are fully aware of what we have to do. You have to be physical at the breakdown and carry hard and low. We’ve already put a big focus on that in training.
“They will come with a lot of confidence and targeting the win but we are fully aware of what they can bring. We have to focus on ourselves.
“We created lots of opportunities against Scotland and it wasn’t the pitch that let us down, it was our decision making and handling.
“As a team we wanted to improve our decision making and execution when we have the ball in hand. We want to give the boys outside chances because they are such dangerous finishers.
“There’s still lots room for improvement and we have highlighted the necessary areas and it’s something being driven by both forwards and backs.”
Get behind-the-scenes news from Billy Twelvetrees and his England team-mates with Inside Line, the weekly show from O2 in partnership with England Rugby, at www.O2InsideLine.com