I know what a World Cup axe feels like

Ross McLean
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Hodgson missed out on three World Cups in a stop-start England career
Ex-England No10 Charlie Hodgson tells Ross McLean that Lancaster can’t win

THERE is simply no mechanism for cushioning the heart-rending blow of missing the final cut for your country’s Rugby World Cup squad.

That is the view of Saracens fly-half Charlie Hodgson as England head coach Stuart Lancaster today prepares to name his 31-man party for the tournament, with eight players on duty in the two warm-up clashes against France facing the axe.

Hodgson, who spent the majority of his stop-start England career in the shadow of Jonny Wilkinson, was robbed of a place at the 2003 and 2007 World Cups through injury.

He then missed out on a third World Cup in 2011 despite forcing his way back into the international equation after a difficult tour of New Zealand three years earlier.

On that occasion, like this, the selection conundrums went to the wire, although then-coach Martin Johnson ultimately elected to take two fly-halves and chose Wilkinson and Leicester’s Toby Flood.

“I know how it feels to get down to the last few in the squad and then told you’re not going to the World Cup. It’s not the greatest time in your career,” Hodgson told City A.M.

“I certainly have sympathy and an understanding about what some of the players will be going through. It’s not nice when you’re not in a World Cup squad; it’s not want you want to hear and it’s a hard truth.

“But there isn’t a decent way of [Lancaster] doing it. Ultimately, as long as he is straight up and honest with the players about the reasons why they are not involved, that’s all they want to hear.

“They want to know the reasons why and they want to know what they can do to get into future squads. Players want honesty and transparency.”

Saracens No10 Hodgson also believes the apparently inclusive atmosphere fostered by Lancaster and the England hierarchy has helped ease the pressurised nature of a World Cup training camp.

“It seemed from an early stage in the [2011] training camp that it might not be my time,” he added.

“I think this time people have been made to feel like they’ve had an opportunity right from the very start, which is great to see.”

Playmaker Danny Cipriani is set to be the most high-profile casualty to miss out on selection, having operated at full-back in both of England’s warm-up matches against Les Bleus at Twickenham and Stade de France.

Cipriani’s expected omission emanates in part from the form demonstrated by Hodgson’s Saracens team-mate Alex Goode, who looks to have cemented his place as chief rival to Mike Brown for the No15 jersey.

“The difficulty for Danny is that he played two warm-up games at full-back and not in his preferred fly-half position and that probably weighs against him,” said Hodgson.

“Alex is one of those players who provide a whole lot more to a game than people give them credit for. He is an unbelievable ball-player, makes great decisions and a very intelligent footballer. He will be worthy of his place.”

Saracens step up preparations for their Premiership title defence today when they return to the Square Mile to face Ospreys in the MXC Capital Challenge at the Honourable Artillery Company. A European crown continues to elude the Allianz Park side, but Hodgson hopes to arrest that trend.

“Your thoughts about what you want to do don’t change season to season, it’s more about the process on how you get there,” he added. “We’ve come close the last few seasons in Europe and we’d like to go that one step further. We know it’s not an easy thing to win but it’s something we want to achieve.”

Tickets for Saracens v Ospreys are available on the gate from the HAC’s Chiswell Street entrance. Tickets range from £25 to £50 and must be paid for in cash. Gates open at 4pm; match kicks off at 6.15pm.