Billy Twelvetrees to be unleashed for England against Italy as Stuart Lancaster experiments
BILLY Twelvetrees is in line to start England's Six Nations clash with Italy on Sunday week – with Manu Tuilagi primed to shift to the wing.
The Gloucester centre remained unused by England boss Stuart Lancaster in Saturday's 23-13 victory over France at Twickenham.
England had planned to unleash the 24-year-old playmaker in the game's closing stages.
But Lancaster did not want to disrupt the centre partnership of Brad Barritt and Tuilagi amid tense exchanges.
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Tuilagi suffered a nasty gash to his left ear in the first minute of the match, but refused to leave the field for stitches.
Despite being momentarily knocked out, the Leicester wrecking ball was quickly revived, and later claimed the match-winning try.
England's Grand Slam hopes are still alive – but that will not stop head coach Lancaster experimenting in two weeks when Italy pitch up at Twickenham.
Lancaster explained: "We can always move Manu Tuilagi to the wing, and bring Billy in at centre.
"It's something we've been looking at and mulling over for a while, trying Manu on the wing.
"And Billy's abilities, form and temperament are something we can utilise as well.
"Brad and Manu work extremely well together, but we do want to look at different combinations and try different things.
"We might have a chance to do that in the next game."
The Tuilagi experiment could spell good news for Twelvetrees then – but one man who could be justifiably less impressed would be Charlie Sharples.
Employed out of position in England's problem left-wing berth in the autumn, Sharples was omitted from the Elite Player Squad in January.
Saracens wing Chris Ashton's rotten England form hit surely the nadir against France. The former Rugby League man missed a straightforward square-on tackle on Wesley Fofana as the slippery centre raced in for a fine try.
Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler and Ben Youngs also missed the Clermont midfielder.
But then Ashton failed with a second attempt to bring him down too.
Not content with his general stinker though, the 25-year-old Wigan-born wideman topped it off with a nice piece of petulance.
Benjamin Fall's playground shove on the final whistle required no response – instead Ashton threw the ball right at the French winger.
Thoughts must go out to Sharples then, and even the likes of Christian Wade and Jonny May.
The queue of in-form try-scoring wings builds behind the struggling Saracen.
Leicester's brutal centre Tuilagi came off worst in a battle with Louis Picamoles' elbow.
The medics wanted him to leave the field for stitches – but he demanded a bandage instead.
When the sutures did come at full-time, the 19 he received took 40 minutes.
"I'm proud I was able to stay on the field," admitted the battering ram centre.
"I told the doc I wasn't going off.
"My shirt was covered in blood – but I'll keep it like that to remember this victory.
"It's the most stitches I've ever had for a rugby injury but I didn't realise how bad it was and it didn't hurt until after the game.
"I had nine stitches for a broken eye socket and cheekbone, and I was bitten by a dog in Samoa once, that was pretty nasty as well."
Lancaster's dogs of war edge ever closer to a Grand Slam decider in Cardiff on March 16, non-sequitur fan Tuilagi and all.