From wild child to wild card
May 15, 2014
Danny Cipriani has the best possible chance to get another Test cap © PA Photos
New Zealand have a mantra - "better people make better All Blacks". So much has been done under Stuart Lancaster to improve the culture within English rugby that when you bring players in from outside his immediate comfort zone, there is a risk. But such is the confidence he has instilled in this team and the foundations he's laid to ensure there are no repeats of previous misdemeanours on trips to New Zealand, he was happy to bring back in from the cold one of the most divisive figures in English rugby when he unveiled a training squad on Thursday.
Danny Cipriani has had a fantastic season for Sale, headlines have been made for on-field form rather than off-field indiscretions. He's not your Project Lancaster player, someone who has been there from the start of this new era, but the coach knows him well having worked with him during his time in the Saxons, a spell which came about when Martin Johnson deemed him too much of a ticking time bomb to include in the senior squad.
But as far as Lancaster is concerned, Cipriani's form and improvements in defence have proven to him that he is worthy of a recall, though due to logistical difficulties there are no guarantees that Cipriani needs to check whether his passport is still in date.
Thursday's announcement of 20 players for the training squad sees a mixture of those players who will be travelling to New Zealand alongside those who will probably end up playing against the Barbarians. Those who have a good chance of getting a place on the plane to New Zealand include some who impressed during the Six Nations - Jonny May, Ben Morgan and Henry Thomas - and others who have credit in the bank from previous England matches - Tom Johnson and Marland Yarde.
Billy Twelvetrees' involvement is still up in the air due to injury while Henry Trinder and Matt Kvesic will have a chance to prove to Lancaster they are worthy of travelling to New Zealand during the training sessions.
For the others - with Cipriani teetering on the fence between the two parties - this is their chance to work closely with Lancaster and for the coach to get to know them better as well, it will be a mutually beneficial exercise.
But once they find some rhythm in training, Lancaster will bring more players into the mix next Monday from the clubs who lost their Premiership semi-finals and will then confirm the final batch on May 26. It's a horribly convoluted process and one which makes the already monumental task of beating the Kiwis on their own patch even more insurmountable.
Lancaster has faith in the strength in depth at his disposal and even though some players who will start that first Test against the All Blacks - with the squad not including those playing in the Premiership final - may be third or fourth choice in their position, they will be expected to live up to the standards Lancaster wants from his England team.
For Cipriani, the ideal scenario would be a Premiership final featuring Saracens and Northampton. That would take out Owen Farrell and Stephen Myler for the opening Test and with the current view that Cipriani is above Freddie Burns in the pecking order, he would vie with George Ford for the No.10 shirt in the match on June 7.
The logistics are horrendous for Lancaster but he was putting a brave face on when he addressed the press on Thursday. Whether Cipriani has a role to play in New Zealand is yet to become clear, but whatever XV starts against New Zealand in Auckland, Lancaster will expect nothing less than the same level of commitment shown by his first-choice team during the recent Six Nations.
"It's a huge challenge and it's a huge test of us as a nation. We've won two Tests in New Zealand, ever, so to go there we're going to have win another two at least to win [the series]. This is unique, we've never had a three-Test series against New Zealand. Whatever way you look at it, it's an unbelievably exciting tour to look forward to. We've talked about it a lot as a group and I know the players are looking forward to it."
Stuart Lancaster unveils the 20-man squad © Getty Images
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Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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