Billy Twelvetrees' journey starts with a big first step in Ireland
BILLY Twelvetrees was only just getting to grips with senior school when Brian O'Driscoll waltzed through Australia's backline, carrying the British Lions to Test victory in Brisbane.
Gloucester's new England centre was just 12 as he watched the Irish midfielder's majestic sluice through the Wallabies.
It was the night O'Driscoll confirmed himself as a world superstar, and one Gloucester's increasingly accomplished playmaker will never forget.
Former Leicester Tiger Twelvtrees will line up against O'Driscoll for the first time tomorrow, as England seek a victory in Dublin to cement a speedy Six Nations surge.
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On just his second England appearance Twelvetrees will concede 120 caps to Ireland's 34-year-old master at the Aviva Stadium (kick-of 3pm).
There are those who would seek to limit the damage, and then there is Twelvetrees.
The supremely collected attacking axis views tomorrow as the first step towards proving he can one day become a world-class operator too.
Last week he made a try-scoring debut in the 38-18 Scotland victory in Manu Tuilagi's wrecking-ball absence.
This time he has kept Leicester's midfield missile out of the starting line-up and aims to keep it that way.
Twelvetrees recalls O'Driscoll's magic of that 29-13 first-Test triumph on June 30, 2001, relishing the size of the challenge ahead.
He explained: "I remember watching the Lions back in Australia, I saw him score an awesome try in the first Test, and you always want to model yourself on the best players in the world.
"As a centre he is one of those, he is world class and proves it week on week.
"He's a star in his own right but we can't get caught up in that.
"It will be a great occasion playing away in Dublin.
"I've definitely tried to incorporate elements of his play into my game.
"You try to get a bit of everyone that you watch, growing up I watched the Six Nations all the time.
"All the centres from the home nations were people to look up to, O'Driscoll has been at the top of his game for some time now, and he's a class act.
"But I'd like to think that I could be there in a few years and I'm just looking forward to proving that."
Ireland boast one of the world's most experienced centre combinations, with Gordon D'Arcy amassing just the cool 75 caps thus far.
Both men defend like back-row forwards when it comes to turning over possession, and that is one specialist area where Twelvetrees knows he is in for a huge slug-fest tomorrow.
Once the preserve of the openside flanker, now every player is expected to offer a passable impression of the groundhog.
Twelvetrees is among the most accomplished turnover hunters at both Gloucester and the Premiership and now he wants to raise that to international level.
He continued: "You look at the way they play, they are very hard at the breakdown.
"Both of them enjoy that side of things.
"It's the same approach we have at Gloucester. One to 15 you don't need to be in the classic seven role to steal the ball.
"If you're on the pitch you're good enough to be there and do it.
"The breakdown decides games.
"For me personally and the whole team it's a vital area to improve in all the time.
"As a centre you're involved in a lot of the game, you're tackling a lot and often at the breakdowns first.
"So you've got to be among the best at it, or willing to be the best at it if you're going to succeed there.
"So that's an area I always want to get better at."
England boss Stuart Lancaster felt Tuilagi was not ready for a full 80 minutes after a month out with ankle trouble.
Twelvetrees will pair up with Saracens' defensive fulcrum Brad Barritt again but said he is comfortable working alongside either man.
He said: "I grew up with Manu at Leicester so I know how he plays the game and what he brings.
"He knows what I'm about as well, so there's a very comfortable partnership there.
"I'm also very happy with how things have been going with Owen Farrell and Brad in training too."