Danny Cipriani took a significant step towards a first tour of World Cup duty with England last night when he was retained by the head coach Stuart Lancaster in a 25-man squad for the Six Nations match with Wales in two days’ time.
The Sale outside-half, inspirational and insubordinate in equal measure over the course of a compelling career fractured by spells of injury and exile, is expected to be named on the bench for the Millennium Stadium contest – his first Championship involvement in seven years.
Cipriani was joined in the party by the 36-year-old Harlequins No 8 Nick Easter, who is also in line for a spot amongst the replacements. Easter, in fine form at Premiership level, has not been in England contention since the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, but the long-term injury suffered by the Gloucester forward Ben Morgan last month created the conditions for a Test return of the “Indian summer” variety.
With Luther Burrell of Northampton and Jonathan Joseph of Bath – the former out of sorts, the latter bang in form – combining in a new centre partnership and starting places up front for the Leicester prop Dan Cole, the Saracens lock George Kruis and the Wasps flanker James Haskell seemingly guaranteed, there will be a fresh look to the team, albeit injury enforced. The heaviest fallers include the Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care, who has fallen behind both Ben Youngs and Richard Wigglesworth in the red rose rankings.
It was back in 2008 that Brian Ashton, then England’s head coach, took the bold step of dropping Jonny Wilkinson and playing Cipriani at No 10 in the final Six Nations game against Ireland. It seemed like the dawning of a new age – England won 33-10, playing some exhilarating stuff – but the outside-half suffered a serious ankle injury a short while later and then fell out with the red rose hierarchy following the Rugby Football Union’s senseless sacking of Ashton.
He returned to Test duty during last summer’s tour of New Zealand, but was overlooked for the autumn internationals. However, his consistency of performance at Sale, allied to the odd flash of individual brilliance, has convinced Lancaster to promote him ahead of the Northampton playmaker Stephen Myler, who does not offer much in the way of pyrotechnics. If things work out, Cipriani will press hard for inclusion in the World Cup squad this autumn.