England’s World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has called for incumbent English boss Eddie Jones to take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book and stage a trial match before finalising his Six Nations squad later this month.
Woodward wants to see England’s best starting XV from last year’s World Cup go up against a team of possible contenders for the Six Nations side, of which he believes should be captained by gifted yet frequently discarded playmaker Danny Cipriani.
Such a scenario would force England’s established stars to fight for their right to stay in the national set-up in a fixture that mirrors that of the Probables vs Possibles trials that the All Blacks held until 2005.
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Writing for the Daily Mail, Woodward said that the existence of trials used to be commonplace in first-class rugby, but “went out of fashion” when the game went professional in 1996.
However, the 64-year-old – who coached the British and Irish Lions to New Zealand in 2005 in addition to leading England to their only World Cup title two years beforehand – believes there is still a place for trials at the elite level of the game.
“As a short sharp shock to the system, I reckon an official trial match in front of a paying audience still has it uses,” he said.
“I remember on the Lions tour in 2005, New Zealand staged a final trial, televised live from Napier soon after our arrival, to see who wanted it the most and for Graham Henry to conduct a final talent sweep to make sure they hadn’t missed anybody.
“Following that game, Sitiveni Sivivatu was accelerated into the All Blacks Test team. There was also the sight of Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu together in the centres for the Possibles, a combination which was to serve New Zealand brilliantly.”
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Woodward predicted that given England’s golden run to the World Cup final, where they were defeated 32-12 by South Africa, would result in Jones staying “loyal to the majority of those involved” in that squad.
“But someone has to ask: ‘What exactly happened and what lessons have been learned?’,” Woodward wrote.
“England need to reboot and hit the reset button. I would like to see everybody in the England squad required to earn their spurs again against the young pretenders.”
While he conceded that a trial match was unlikely to be held before England’s Six Nations opener against France on February 2, Woodward said he would still like to see a Possibles team, made up of players not at the World Cup, in action.
“I would further ramp things up by giving Danny Cipriani a final chance to prove his worth at No 10, and make him captain to boot. Meanwhile I’m hitting the phone right now and seeing if [former England wing] Christian Wade is able to fly back from NFL training.”
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