I wouldn't go as far as saying it’s last chance saloon territory, but this weekend’s European Champions Cup clashes provide a major opportunity for certain players to put their hands up for the summer’s British and Irish Lions tour.
There aren’t many auditions left as Lions head coach Warren Gatland announces his squad on 19 April and these European tussles are the ideal platform for players to show they can perform under intense pressure.
One wildcard being touted for a call-up is Wasps fly-half Danny Cipriani. I doubt he’ll make the squad because, quite honestly, I don’t think he is good enough.
Don’t get me wrong, with ball in hand he is a genius. If this year’s Lions tour was to South Africa then maybe he would get the nod because he would be playing on a dry track and his creativity and speed would be potent.
But in New Zealand you are going to get a barrage of physicality coming down your throat. The Lions will need someone who is robust and defensively strong and that’s why, in my view, Cipriani and indeed George Ford shouldn’t tour.
When their respective teams are playing on the front foot then both Cipriani and Ford are exquisite players, but the moment they’re under pressure they can be found out.
They are not as sturdy as the likes of Johnny Sexton, Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar. Granted, those players don’t have too much creativity but in New Zealand you’re not going to get the freedom to play free-flowing, expansive rugby.
That said, Cipriani still has a chance of making Gatland’s cut. He is pulling the strings for Premiership leaders Wasps, who are the most in-form side in Europe.
Wasps play Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday and Cipriani will go up against Sexton – the man I believe is nailed on to play No10 for the Lions.
At times, Cipriani has been found wanting in big pressure moments. But if the 29-year-old outplays Sexton then that would be a massive statement and something which cannot be ignored.
The same applies to Saracens wing Chris Ashton, who has been backed to force his way into the Lions squad by Allianz Park director of rugby Mark McCall. He has the chance to show his quality when Sarries host Glasgow on Sunday.
I’m absolutely baffled why England boss Eddie Jones has ignored Ashton. The Toulon-bound flyer is a world-class finisher and has been fantastic for the north Londoners.
I really do find it incredible that Jones hasn’t selected him but, like Cipriani, he still has a chance of making the plane to New Zealand. However, similar to Cipriani, despite his lethal finishing, I don’t think he should go to New Zealand.
The All Blacks have players like man-mountain Julian Savea and he will punish a team if they’re not defensively strong. Ashton is defensively fragile and that’s where he loses out.
Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.@OlliePhillips11