Billy Twelvetrees’s performances for England have been almost as memorable as his curious surname since he made his international rugby debut against Scotland in 2013.
In an era of backs with more grunt than guile, Twelvetrees – still a soaring English oak at 6ft 3in and 100kg – has tipped the scales back in the favour of intelligent ball carriers.
The Rugby World Cup is now less than a year away, and with England hosting the tournament the spotlight will, for once, be on the oval rather than the round ball next autumn: “I’ve been in the England setup for 18 months, and since I joined the aim has been to get us to 2015 in prime condition,” Twelvetrees explains. “That is the ultimate goal: to win the World Cup.”
Every domestic encounter before then will be seen through the prism of international selection, right up to England’s opening match against Fiji on 18 September 2015. How will Twelvetrees deal with the scrutiny?
“It’s always been like that. Even at under-ten level I was being judged, and whether it’s county, club or country you always have to prove yourself against others in your position. That’s the nature of being a professional sportsman.”
At least the 25-year-old centre has one other constant during this battle for selection: his childhood sweetheart, and now wife, Georgie. “I got married in the summer,” he says. “It was something I always wanted to do. I’ve been with my wife since our schooldays, and when I turned professional she was by my side. She didn’t mind taking my name,” he adds. “She always said she wanted to be a Twelvetrees. Very noble of her!”
Ah yes, that name. It’s an ongoing curiosity for both fans and family, particularly his dad, who runs – coincidentally – a tree surgery business: “My uncle in Australia is doing a family tree as we speak. I’m interested in finding out the history of the name, but results are still to come.”
Twelvetrees’s club side Gloucester has its own World Cup to prepare for, with the 16,500-capacity Kingsholm Stadium preparing to host four group matches during next year’s tournament.
It is one of only a handful of places in the country where the rough diamonds of rugby take presence over football’s glitter: “Rugby is Gloucester,” agrees Twelvetrees, “Gloucester is Kingsholm. This isn’t a football town.”
Gloucester is one of 13 World Cup venues, but Twickenham will still be HQ for England. All but one of the national side’s matches will be played in west London; Twelvetrees jokes that part of him would prefer the West Country. “It would be amazing to have an England international at Kingsholm. It would be absolutely manic: the stands would be well over the legal limit!”
Twickenham will have a chance to match Gloucester’s passion during this year’s autumn internationals, an important milestone on the road to 2015. England’s squad will be announced on 22 October, with New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Samoa all eager to derail the hosts’ preparations.
This England team has to start winning things,” Twelvetrees says. “We came close in the Six Nations, close in the autumn last year, then had a disappointing summer. England has to win against the three big southern hemisphere teams this autumn. Win against those, win the Six Nations, then you’re in the best position to go into the World Cup.
“For England to win the World Cup in England is the ambition. New Zealand did it in 2011 despite the pressure; the whole country was alive with rugby. Fingers crossed, England will be able to match that feeling.”