Cipriani suffers demotion to Saxons duty

High-profile Wasps outside-half overlooked for Six Nations clash with Italy
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The Independent Online

Danny Cipriani was regarded as something extra-special when he single-handedly made a mess of Ireland last March, and the overwhelming majority of the English rugby public still see him as an apprentice world-beater, even though his form has slipped alarmingly since that golden performance at Twickenham. Not even a fully-fledged superhero could play two games in 18 hours, however, and as the Wasps outside-half has been summoned for second-string Saxons duty in Dublin on Friday night, it is safe to assume he will not be playing for the first team against Italy on Saturday afternoon.

It is a heavy fall for the young Londoner, to say the least. Although he was given a soft landing of sorts by Martin Johnson – "He remains in my plans for the Six Nations, but I'd like to see him get some game time," the England manager said yesterday – the decision to drop him from the Test squad will hurt him badly. Johnson must now choose between Toby Flood of Leicester, promoted above Cipriani for the game with the All Blacks before Christmas but now struggling with a calf injury, and the recalled Andy Goode, who has been kicking points by the gross for Brive in the French Top 14 tournament.

How things change. When Goode left Leicester for the Correze at the end of last season, there seemed no clear way back for him on the Premiership front, let alone the England one. He last played for his country in 2006 – that game, against the Springboks at Twickenham, was also Andy Robinson's final outing as national coach – and despite his excellent form across the Channel, the notion that he might challenge Cipriani, Flood and a bloke by the name of Wilkinson for the No 10 shirt was fanciful in the extreme. But Wilkinson is injured yet again, Cipriani has gone walkabout and Flood is hobbling. For reasons of goal-kicking alone, Goode has an extremely good chance of being involved against the Italians.

Harry Ellis, the Leicester scrum-half who has played the lion's share of his club rugby alongside Goode, has also taken the Cipriani route out of the senior squad – something of a surprise, despite his recent suspension and consequent lack of meaningful activity. Ellis played for the Saxons against Portugal last Friday night, and having proved his fitness, was expected to challenge for a Twickenham berth this weekend. Instead, he will find himself mixing it with Ireland A at Donnybrook, where decent England sides have gone belly-up on more than one occasion.

His departure opens up a bench place for the uncapped Ben Foden, whose form in two positions, scrum-half and full-back, have earned him his fair share of rave reviews at Northampton over the last five months. There may also be an opportunity, this time of the starting variety, for the equally undecorated London Irish flanker Steffon Armitage, whose elder brother Delon was one of the few England successes during a painful run of southern hemisphere thumpings in November. Armitage minor would not have found himself this close to heaven but for the injury problems suffered by Tom Rees, Lewis Moody and Michael Lipman, but he has turned in some major performances for the Exiles this term and is probably worth a punt.

Johnson called in a couple of reinforcements yesterday: James Simpson-Daniel, who showed a little of his old spark for Gloucester at the weekend, joined the squad as cover for Ugo Monye of Harlequins, who has back trouble; and the young Saracens prop Tom Mercey, asked to deputise for Tim Payne of Wasps, who has sore abdominal muscles. Payne, who played against New Zealand before Christmas, was under pressure for his place from Andrew Sheridan of Sale, while Monye was fighting to hold off Mark Cueto. The injuries have probably made up Johnson's mind for him.

Anyone excited at the prospect of seeing the 20-year-old Glasgow outside-half Ruaridh Jackson make his international debut for Scotland against Wales this weekend will have to get excited about something else, for Jackson was released back to his club yesterday. Frank Hadden, the national coach, indicated that Jackson would be blooded in a second-string match, and there isn't one of those until 27 February.

Hadden's more pressing concerns surround two of his first-choice tight forwards: the prop Euan Murray, who is suffering from a rib injury, and the lock Nathan Hines, who has knee problems. Scotland can ill afford to lose either of them.

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