Gloucester Rugby: Ryan Mills' time has come says Nigel Davies
RARE talent Ryan Mills can finally make his full Kingsholm breakthrough this season, hails Nigel Davies.
Gloucester's hybrid centre is the ideal, and uncommon, mix of rapier and bludgeon.
The 21-year-old is the Cherry and Whites' closest equal to England and now British Lions inside back Billy Twelvetrees.
Rugby director Davies rates that kind of multi-tasking, physical playmaking centre as one of the scarcest talents in professional rugby.
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The Kingsholm boss is proud to boast two in his squad and he has high hopes for Mills this season.
The Exeter-born inside centre was primed to establish himself as a first-team regular last season.
But then a long-term defect in his right knee caused more and more trouble, until he had to go under the knife to solve the problem.
Mills has his first chance to impress in pre-season match action this evening, when he will line up against Munster at Thomond Park (kick-off 5pm).
And Davies cannot wait to see the skilful midfielder get back into the groove.
Davies explained: "Ryan has had a good pre-season, he's been managed, but his knee is as good as it's been for a number of years now.
"It's great to see him back on the training pitch, he's a very skilful rugby player.
"He kicks off both feet, he's worked a lot on his left foot in particular because of the right knee that was giving him trouble.
"And that's added to his game.
"He's an exceptionally skilful rugby player, he's very physical, and if he can stay fit he'll be a real asset to this squad.
"I think it's very important we have strength in depth as well as balance, and a number of playmaking options.
"But in Billy Twelvetrees and Ryan Mills, they're not only playmakers they're also extremely physical presences.
"And there's not many players of that ilk around – most centres are either one or the other."
Gloucester may well have to negotiate the majority of the autumn international and Six Nations schedules without Freddie Burns and new vice-captain Twelvetrees.
The dangerous inside-back duo could easily be England match squad regulars this season.
Former Wales centre Davies has recruited wisely in adding Kiwi out-half Johnny Bentley to the squad from Cornish Pirates.
If Mills thrives as expected, then the Cherry and Whites have ready-made replacements for their two frontline playmakers.
Tim Taylor continues to battle the knee problem that struck last term, and in his absence Davies said 19-year-old Billy Burns is another who can step into the breach.
Bentley's last two seasons have been blighted by injury, but Davies revealed Gloucester's medical staff are helping him reach his peak – to turn him from long-shot into sure-thing.
Davies continued: "Johnny was always going to be a bit of a gamble in terms of his fitness coming into the squad, but he's going very well.
"Through our medical team and physios we've managed him really well and he's getting near to where he was at his best, near to the level he played at the Pirates.
"But that's the gamble that we took.
"I'm sure when his fitness gets to the level that it can do we'll get the best out of him, and he looks a real quality player.
"We've got good cover now.
"We've still got concerns around Tim Taylor at the moment, and his fitness.
"So we needed to bring in a back-up in that area, and also we've got Billy Burns, who is developing and coming on all the time.
"He had some exposure with us last year, in the LV= game against Ospreys where I thought he went very well.
"But unfortunately maybe because of his lack of physical stature at that stage he picked up an injury.
"But he's developing all the time, both physically and in his rugby awareness and ability.
"He'll be somebody who will be competing as well."