There was no way that Eddie Jones could leave out Danny Cipriani for England’s third Test in South Africa on Saturday.
The fly-half — who will make his first start in a decade as England attempt to stave off a series whitewash against the Springboks in Cape Town — simply had to be picked. If Jones had ignored Cipriani again it would have made taking him to South Africa nothing short of a farce.
It’s been a long time coming for the 30-year-old. His spell in the wilderness hasn’t always been unjustified. At points he made a rod for his own back — the year in Australia, the celebrity lifestyle. When he was playing well for Sale two years ago it was during the Jones glory days when England went 18 games unbeaten. You couldn’t drop anyone.
But in recent times it’s been too much of an armchair ride for the incumbent players. You need to create competition and for too long there hasn’t been any at No9, 10 or 12 for Jones’s England.
Let’s be clear: Cipriani is not going to solve all of England’s problems and nor should we expect him to. The key issues are still the breakdown and the defence. Attacking – one of Cipriani’s great strengths – has been quite good in recent losses to the Barbarians and the Boks.
The defensive frailties that people always used to talk about whenever Cipriani’s name came up are not as prevalent anymore. He’s worked on it and become a lot more solid. There’s no difference in defensive strength between him and fellow fly-half George Ford. England will not lose anything on that side of their game.
What Cipriani will bring is a real commanding presence. He is an outsized personality on the rugby field who orchestrates things and dictates the direction of travel. You just have to look at the difference it makes to Wasps when he’s been missing. Without him they’ve looked a little rudderless but with him they’ve played some really direct, attractive, creative, flowing rugby. He’s going to be more assertive and more direct in how he brings his forwards and his runners into the attack.
You could say it’s an unfortunate situation for him to finally get his chance when England are in a rocky place and down on confidence. But equally, it could be that a classic Cipriani performance totally galvanizes and transforms a suffering team. He’s that good.
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