I spoke to Danny the other day and he’s basically waiting to see if Eddie Jones picks him before he makes up his mind and finalises where he’s going to be next season, so the ramifications of whether he’s selected or not are enormous.
I was in a similar situation when I left Leicester, who were winning trophies and my last game was against Wasps in the European Cup final in 2008, to go to Brive but I thought I wasn’t going to be picked by England and got offered a far bigger contract so I took it.
You would have thought that Jones could have had an encouraging word in his ear already to get him to stay in the Premiership but now it’s make or break time and as a player you have to make the most of your opportunities if you’re overlooked.
On form, you have to take him and there’s definitely a case for him to be starting in the first test in Johannesburg as well now. Owen Farrell goes and is captain but if you stick with him at inside centre, then Cipriani has to be the man to start inside him.
He’s been head and shoulders above George Ford this season and I’d take Simmonds as the other back up fly half after the form he’s shown and how impressive he’s been in displacing Gareth Steenson in the best club side in the country.
Marcus Smith has been in the England squad as an apprentice and many people will expect to see him in there but he’s been playing in a poor Quins team and I don’t think you can ignore how Simmonds has been controlling games for Exeter.
Continue reading below
Ben Te’o, Henry Slade and Alex Lozowski will all be putting their hands up to start at inside centre with Farrell at fly half but I think Cipriani has earned the opportunity to show he can perform the role that Ford has been playing for the past couple of seasons and do it better.
Defence has never been Danny’s strong point. Dai Young even joked that he made his first tackle of the season against Northampton last week, but Ford has been a liability in defence at times and what Cipriani brings to a team’s attack is far and above what Ford has been offering over the past 12 months.
Right now, there’s no better number 10 in the Premiership. He attacks the line and keeps his shoulders square, which draws defenders in, and nobody else can do that to the level he can in England at the moment.
England’s attack was poor in the Six Nations and they’ve stagnated. Change is needed, he can add a new dimension to their play and he turns 32-years-old on the day of the 2019 World Cup final so there’s no question of his time having passed.
Why England don’t have a full-time backs coach is beyond me. Eddie Jones is the boss but I think he takes on too much himself at times. You need a backs coach and I think an appointment should be made for someone to come in and work towards the World Cup rather than it being just for the South Africa tour.
Glen Ella had a lot of success when England toured Australia in 2016 and Sam Vesty has worked with them before as well. Both would be good additions if it is to be one of them but a long-term solution would definitely be preferable.
I think England are the only top tier international team that brings in an attack coach, then lets them go and then brings them back for a few games so it’s a bizarre situation for me.
Elsewhere, it’s really unfortunate that Anthony Watson has picked up an Achilles injury because it looked like he was going to be the full back moving forwards but that has opened the door for Jason Woodward, who is the form man in that position for sure.
I think Manu [Tuilagi] wants to have a full pre-season and get himself fit and ready for next season with Leicester, so I’ve left him out of my predicted squad but Eddie Jones is the boss and might just decide he wants to take a closer look at him.
Mako Vunipola has played a lot of rugby and needs a rest and I think Danny Care will be another to take a break but I don’t think there’ll be a massive group of players rested.
I think Maro Itoje will go but I’ve watched Dave Attwood a lot for Toulon lately and he’s playing some of the best rugby of his career, so I’d be tempted to give him a go if Maro is rested. The Top 14 final being on June 2 could be an issue if Toulon get there but he’s still a Bath player so I don’t see any reason that he shouldn’t be selected. Jonny Hill at Exeter would be another outside bet in the second row.
The back row is the area where I think we should see the most change after England’s struggles at the breakdown in the Six Nations and I think the likes of Gary Graham and Jack Willis have played their way in alongside Don Armand and Brad Shields, who looks like he’s on the plane before he’s even touched down in Coventry.
Last summer or before the Six Nations, with where England were and how South Africa looked, you would have expected a 3-0 series whitewash. However, with a host of players missing, England having a disastrous Six Nations campaign and things looking a bit more promising in South Africa, the landscape has changed.
Anything less than a series victory will still be considered a massive disappointment and underachievement for England though. It’ll be hard fought as it always is in South Africa but I expect England to take it 2-1.
My England Squad for South Africa
|Jason Woodward||Jamie George|
|Mike Brown||Luke Cowan-Dickie|
|Denny Solomona||Tommy Taylor|
|Jonny May||Ellis Genge|
|Jack Nowell||Joe Marler|
|Elliot Daly||Alec Hepburn|
|Ben Te’o||Kyle Sinckler|
|Henry Slade||Harry Williams|
|Alex Lozowski||Jake Cooper-Woolley|
|Owen Farrell||Joe Launchbury|
|Danny Cipriani||Nick Isiekwe|
|Joe Simmonds||Charlie Ewels|
|Ben Youngs||Maro Itoje|
|Dan Robson||Brad Shields|
|Ben Spencer||Don Armand|
You may also enjoy
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.