It’s March 15th 2008, and a 20-year-old fly-half by the name of Danny Cipriani is stepping out at Twickenham for his first ever England appearance.
That day, he slotted the ball between the posts seven times to help England beat Ireland on what turned out to be Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan’s last game in charge. England finally had found a replacement for Jonny Wilkinson and it was in the form of the young London Wasps fly-half.
Move ahead almost six years and it probably hasn’t panned out in quite the way he had hoped. After a brilliant performance on his debut for his national side, Cipriani struggled to emulate that performance later in the year for the autumn internationals and was subsequently dropped.
In 2011, he moved down under to play for the then newly-formed Melbourne Rebels ruling him out of being called up to represent England. After only one full season in Australia he came back to the UK and signed a three-year contract with the Sale Sharks.
Despite struggling to force his way into Sale’s first 15 in his first season, he has finally made the number 10 shirt his own and is looking like the player who got called up to play for England in ’08.
The race for the starting berth at 10 for England looks to be the most competitive in recent times with Cipriani, Freddie Burns, George Ford, Toby Flood and Owen Farrell all in with a shout for a place in this year's Six Nations squad. Farrell has been Stuart Lancaster’s preferred choice for the last couple of seasons and seems to have a firm grasp on the position.
Last year’s two fly-halves in the squad were Flood and Farrell, however it is likely that Stuart Lancaster will look to replace Flood after it was announced that he was planning to leave Leicester, and the speculation is that it will be cross channel which, under the RFU’s current ruling, would make him unavailable for selection.
Lancaster is likely to want to choose a squad with next year’s World Cup in mind, which will not work in Flood’s favour. Another player who is looking increasingly unlikely to represent England at the Six Nations is Burns, who has really struggled for form with Gloucester this season and is being picked behind centre Billy Twelvetrees at 10 at Gloucester.
This realistically only leaves the trio of Ford, Farrell and Cipriani vying for the two positions in the squad and with Saracens top of the league and no sign of a dip in Farrell’s form, it would highly improbable for him not be starting against France for England’s first game of the Six Nations.
With that in mind, it’s between Ford and Cipriani for a space on the bench. Both players have been in fine form for their clubs this season. Although you would say that Cipriani is the more creative of the two, his defensive abilities are questionable and have been highlighted in the past.
But with Stuart Lancaster’s irritating obsession with playing the ever-brilliant defender Brad Barritt at 12, can England do with a fly half who misses the occasional tackle? England need a player who can turn a game on its head from the bench and Cipriani can definitely offer that.
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