BILLY Twelvetrees has been urged to be the noisy neighbour in England’s new look midfield axis in France today.
The Gloucester star lines up alongside Northampton Saints’ Luther Burrell in the eighth different centre partnership since Stuart Lancaster took the helm as the Six Nations gets underway in Paris.
Twelvetrees is the senior statesman of the duo despite having just eight caps to his name. But Lancaster has been impressed with the manner he has established himself and the leadership qualities shown.
Lancaster said: “I saw a change in Billy from the Australia game to Argentina. I put it on him a bit. I said I'll back you to start but I need more from you in terms of leadership.
“We can't have Owen as the loan voice driving the ship so to speak. Billy really stepped up from that point and has maintained that confidence through the autumn.
“The added bonus for me is that he has been given the captaincy at Gloucester because that means he's taken more of a leadership role. He definitely has it in him.
“The consequence now is he feels experienced, comfortable in this environment and has growing leadership potential. He knows what I expect from him.”
With a back line containing two debutants, in Burrell and Jack Nowell, and Jonny May who boasts just one cap, there are realistic fears a player could crash and burn in the same manner as Matthew Tait in 2005.
Entering the Stade de France cauldron the likes of Twelvetrees will need to lead from the front but Lancaster reckons they are ready for the challenge.
He said: “I'm thinking more positively than that. A good example of that was Billy in the Australia game where the game didn't go as well as he wanted but I wanted to give him another chance to get it right. You don't want to chop and change all the time by any stretch of the imagination.
“We've done lots of backs on backs sessions and when you're getting George Ford, Kyle Eastmond, Brad Barrett, Anthony Watson running against you, you get tested.
“We've done as many of those scenarios as you can hope to do when putting a new centre combination together.
“The proof will be playing against Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana who are world class players. They are a similar combination to ours – a guy there who's a carrier and a guy who has great distribution. But the upside is there’s no fear.
“That sometimes can build in their career during Six Nations or during international rugby. They have no fear and Jack Nowell and Luther definitely fit into that category.”
England have won their last three Championship clashes with France and while Les Bleus have also fielded a new-look team they enter the tournament in buoyant mood.
Lancaster added: “They’re a well prepared French side who had a good autumn series and are playing England at home. They’ll be ready.”
France: B Dulin (Castres); Y Huget (Toulouse), M Bastareaud (Toulon), W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), M Medard (Toulouse); J Plisson (Stade Francais), J Doussain (Toulouse); T Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), B Kayser (Clermont Auvergne), N Mas (Montpellier), A Flanquart (Stade Francais), P Pape (Stade Francais, capt), Y Nyanga (Toulouse), B Le Roux (Racing Metro), L Picamoles (Toulouse). Replacements: D Szarzewski (RacingMetro), Y Forestier (Castres), R Slimani (Stade Francais), Y Maestri (Toulouse), A Burban (Stade Francais), D Chouly (Clermont Auvergne), M Machenaud (Racing Metro), G Fickou (Toulouse).
England: M Brown (Harlequins); J Nowell (Exeter), L Burrell (Northampton), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), J May (Gloucester); O Farrell (Saracens), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens). Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester), M Vunipola (Saracens), H Thomas (Sale), D Attwood (Bath), B Morgan (Gloucester), L Dickson (Northampton), B Barritt (Saracens), A Goode (Saracens).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)