Cipriani simmered, May mastered his position and France may just be on their way back. Here are four things we learned from the summer internationals.
A decade after his last start, Cipriani proves his international class
He was the best fly-half in the Premiership last season but a 10-year absence from international rugby left it unknowable if Danny Cipriani was the best fly-half for England. His long-awaited performance as the tourists beat South Africa 25-10 in the third Test in Cape Town on Saturday suggested he just might be.
There were none of the defensive lapses or self-indulgent play so many England coaches have feared he could bring to their side. In fact, for 71 minutes it was a relatively quiet, unfussy performance from the mercurial playmaker in inhospitable conditions.
Yet with his one creative opening, which came at a crucial juncture when England were leading by just five points with 10 minutes to go, Cipriani stamped his mark on a match with a cross-field kick to set up Jonny May to score.
In a tour in which his absence from the team had been a defining question of England’s low points, his presence proved the defining factor of its highlight.
A Cipriani and Farrell relationship will need time to blossom
There was a moment just after the hour mark on Saturday when, under the direction of an increasingly vocal Cipriani, England’s forwards were gathering momentum and putting together phases of play before Farrell bizarrely opted for an ambitious drop goal effort from distance. I
It was a move that suggested the captain was looking to reassert the kind of influence and control over the direction of the team that he is used to with George Ford alongside him.
The Ben Youngs-Ford-Farrell axis at 9-10-12 that has for so long characterised England’s backline may take a while to adjust to the outsized presence of Cipriani in the middle. If Jones is serious about Cipriani potentially making the World Cup, he needs more games between now and next autumn.
Jonny May has made England’s right-wing position his own
Not many England players will come away from a 2-1 series defeat in South Africa with their World Cup credentials enhanced but May — a player who has not always been first choice in the Jones era — can be pleased with a personally successful tour.
The rapid Leicester man was England’s most dangerous player in all three Tests. He scored three tries and assisted three and earned penalty-kicking territory for England with devastating line-breaks.
France are on the slow road to recovery
Results in a 3-0 series loss in New Zealand may suggest otherwise, but there are reasons for French fans to start being positive for their national team’s future under Jacque Brunel.
Les Bleus had unforgivably poor decisions go against them in each of their three games against the All Blacks and caused real problems for the world champions, especially in the early exchanges. Perhaps more encouragingly, their youngsters beat the Kiwis to lift the World Rugby Under-20 championship for the first time.