Uncapped Gloucester center Billy Twelvetrees is set for an England debut against Scotland at Twickenham tomorrow after being confirmed in coach Stuart Lancaster’s 23-man matchday squad on Tuesday.
With powerful Leicester midfielder Manu Tuilagi out of England’s Six Nations opener because of injury, Twelvetrees was selected ahead of London Irish outside center Jonathan Joseph.
Meanwhile, Saracens wing David Strettle was also included in the matchday 23, meaning there was no place in the squad for Northampton fullback Ben Foden.
Given the squad he now has, it would appear Lancaster’s intention is to start Twelvetrees at inside center, with Brad Barritt in the No. 13 shirt he wore for his first two Test appearances in last year’s Six Nations.
Alternatively, Lancaster could deploy either Owen Farrell or Toby Flood, both primarily outside flankers, at inside center.
However, Farrell is the side’s current flyhalf, having starred there during England’s record-breaking 38-21 win over world champions New Zealand last time out at Twickenham in December.
When England last drafted in Flood as an emergency inside center, it did little to prevent a 2011 World Cup quarter-final defeat by France.
Tuilagi’s pace and power saw him score one and help create two of England’s three tries against the All Blacks.
However, the 24-year-old Twelvetrees has been in fine form for Gloucester this season after joining from Leicester, impressing with his handling game and all-round ball-playing skills.
His inclusion in Lancaster’s larger tournament squad earlier this month was welcomed by former England flyhalf Stuart Barnes, who said Twelvetrees could be the man to provide the guile the Red Rose midfield have often been accused of lacking in recent seasons.
“I remember talking to Lancaster at Bath when he took over this England job and he said he wanted a 12 who could distribute the ball; England have beaten the All Blacks, but they have not got that 12 yet,” Barnes told Sky Sports.
“Twelvetrees has that capacity. He has a lovely pass off left and right, he can kick and he can carry. He is a guy who can change the way England play,” he added.
Lancaster’s other selection dilemmas both involve the Youngs brothers, with Ben, the incumbent scrumhalf, trying to fend off the challenge of Danny Care for his starting place and hooker Tom aiming to stay ahead of Dylan Hartley.
“We’ve had to make some tough calls with a lot of competition for places,” said Lancaster, who was set to name his starting XV and eight replacements for the Calcutta Cup clash yesterday.
Interim Scotland coach Scott Johnson named his team on Tuesday, with the most eye-catching pick the inclusion of uncapped New Zealand-born wing Sean Maitland.