Eddie Jones refused to end Danny Cipriani’s Rugby World Cup dream despite leaving him out of his England squad for the autumn internationals, but his omission from Thursday’s announcement makes it all the more unlikely that the Gloucester fly-half will feature in Japan next year.
The 30-year-old has endured a rollercoaster 2018, with the highs of returning to the England squad and starting the most-recent test win over South Africa countered by the lows of his conviction for common assault in August and subsequent dropping from the international squad.
Despite making a strong start to life at Gloucester - claiming the Premiership’s Player of the Month award for September - Cipriani has fallen behind Owen Farrell and George Ford in the fly-half pecking order, and while Jones refused to rule out recalling him for the Six Nations next February or the World Cup campaign, it’s looking increasingly likely that he will not be part of his plans in Japan.
“I've had discussions with him,” Jones said. “He's worked on some areas. George and Owen are our first two number 10s. He's our third choice. There are areas he needs to work on.
“He understands that and needs to keep working on them. Everyone is a World Cup possible, as we've seen.”
While the door is not shut on Cipriani, it would seem that, beyond injury, there is little he can do in upping his game to try and usurp either Farrell or Ford.
But Jones used examples of his squad selection to stress that he is not ruling Cipriani out, with the inclusions of Exeter Chiefs Ben Moon and Gloucester No 8 Ben Morgan ones that could not have been imagined at the start of the season.
“If you spoke to Ben Moon eight weeks ago and said you're likely to start a Test against South Africa – you have a great chance of that – he'd probably look at you as though you have two heads. Now this is an opportunity for him. Everything is a possibility,” Jones added.
“I think the last 12 months have been pretty challenging, since the Lions tour we've had a number of players unavailable, it's been quite continuous, so we are getting quite good at this.
“We had a number of contingencies in place for various situations and we've named I think a really strong 36-man squad, a good balance of experience - we've lost 320 caps' of players , of which 80 per cent of those are in the forwards. That puts a bit of a hole in the experience of the forwards but we are going to have to find different ways for making up for that experience but we've got some good young guys coming through so it's quite exciting for us.”
The last week has proven highly attritional for Jones’ options, with the Vunipola brothers, Mako and Billy, both suffering injuries that will keep them out of the autumn internationals as well as Joe Launchbury and Chris Robshaw joining the long-term absentee list.
“In terms of the way we play the game there's three guys there, Billy, Joe Launchbury and Mako who are all enormously influential players, good team men, love playing for England and we will definitely miss them,” Jones said.
“But what it does do opportunities for these young players to come through.
“We've always spoken at a World Cup about needing to have the depth of three players in each position and immediately in November we are going to be tested in some positions where we are down to fourth or fifth choice, which opens up the opportunities for players to come through.”
Following this weekend’s second round of European Champions Cup rugby, Jones will take his squad to Portugal for a week-long training camp to prepare for their opening autumn internationals against South Africa on 3 November.
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