Danny Cipriani is in contention for a first England appearance in six years after being included yesterday in a depleted training squad ahead of a non-cap international against the Barbarians and the three-Test tour of New Zealand.
Widely touted as English rugby’s next big thing after a brilliant test debut against Ireland in the Six Nations in 2008, the fly-half’s international career never kicked on and he drifted out of the England set-up because of injury, off-field issues and concerns about dedication to the sport.
However, the 26-year-old has enjoyed his best season in many years in the English Premiership with Sale Sharks, catching the attention of England coach Stuart Lancaster. “His club have done a fantastic job of making him a more rounded and mature person,” said Lancaster, a disciplinarian who has placed higher demands on players in terms of their off-the-field behaviour in his time as coach since 2012.
The preliminary 20-man training group is without players from six leading English clubs – Saracens, Northampton, Leicester, Harlequins, Bath and Wasps – due to their involvement in Premiership semi-final matches and end-of-season European competitions. Further additions to the squad will follow after the Premiership semi-finals, with the final squad to be named on 26 May.
Players from the teams who qualify for the Premiership final, which is played on 31 May, will not be available for the Barbarians match at Twickenham on 1 June and the first of three tests against the All Blacks, in Auckland on 7 June.
Northampton and England flanker Tom Wood branded the scheduling clash as “ridiculous.”
“It splits your loyalties,” he said. “The reality is that playing for a Premiership final could do you out of an England cap. For some people, that could be their first cap or the difference between getting in the side and cementing your place or not. Those are questions you should never have to ask.”
A final between Northampton and Harlequins, for example, would deny Lancaster eight first-choice players for the first Test of a series he counts as crucial in his team’s development ahead of next year’s world cup. However, it is this scenario that has helped Cipriani gain a recall, with fellow No 10s Owen Farrell (Saracens) and George Ford (Bath) not available to Lancaster for this initial training squad.
If Cipriani makes a good impression, he could yet make it into the touring squad for New Zealand as the third option at fly-half and add to the seven caps he won in 2008. England’s tour includes Tests on three consecutive Saturdays as well as a midweek match against the Canterbury-based Crusaders.
Squad: Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons), Freddie Burns (Gloucester), Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs), Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs), Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester), Jonny May (Gloucester), Ben Morgan (Gloucester), Michael Paterson (Sale Sharks), Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors), Dan Robson (Gloucester), Charlie Sharples (Gloucester), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs) Tommy Taylor (Sale Sharks), Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks), Henry Trinder (Gloucester), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Marland Yarde (London Irish).