Christchurch - Flyhalf Danny Cipriani staked a claim for inclusion in England's side for the third rugby Test against New Zealand with a brief but influential performance in their 38-7 win over Super Rugby's Crusaders on Tuesday.
A knee injury which has ruled Owen Farrell out of Saturday's Test at Hamilton leaves Cipriani in competition for the No. 10 jersey with Freddie Burns, who played in the first test in Auckland when Farrell was unavailable.
Burns may be the frontrunner for the role but Cipriani's performance in England's win in a rare midweek tour match gives the touring selectors pause for thought. He was subbed just after halftime but his slick passing played a role in first-half tries to hooker Joe Gray and fullback Alex Goode.
England scored six tries in total including four in the first half through Gray, Goode, winger Ben Foden and center Brad Barritt, but only two, to winger Anthony Watson and replacement Chris Pennell, in the second half, and after Cipriani left the field.
The 20-year-old Stephen Myler, who took over from Cipriani in his first senior start for England, was also impressive, creating Watson's try with a skilful slipped pass and adding the conversion.
The England side, technically a second string and excluding players in line for third-test selection, kept up the high standards the tourists have set in New Zealand. They were technically sound at set-pieces, they attacked with fluency and imagination, they competed for possession with physicality and skill, and defended with strength and co-ordination.
Their comprehensive win over the Crusaders, who are seven-time Super Rugby champions but who were without up to 12 frontline players, was an impressive indication of the depth England possesses.
“We spoke about it during the week, there are a lot of frustrated guys who haven't had the chance to play in the tests so this was our opportunity to play,” England captain Ed Slater said. “A lot of our focus has been on this game; we prepared well and we executed well.”
The Crusaders sometimes stretched England when they held the ball and were able to lift the pace of the game but their periods in possession were too infrequent, and their play too littered with handling errors.
England played generally at a more measured pace but they were given a mobile platform through their forwards as players such as Slater and props Henry Thomas and Alex Waller carried strongly.
Their backs also ran with purpose and showed an outstanding ability to finish, through accurate passing, when tryscoring opportunities arose.
Gray scored England's opening try within two minutes of the kickoff and after sustained England pressure. Cipriani slipped a tackle to unlock the Crusaders defense and passed infield to Gray.
Foden scored five minutes later, showing great skill to control a ball which seemed to be heading into touch and to outflank the defense.
Barritt scored in the 29th minute and Goode added England's fourth try six minutes from halftime after Cipriani threw an accurate long ball in midfield.
England took 18 minutes to add to its total after halftime but their fifth try came when Myler's pass set Watson on a long run to the line, eluding three defenders. The tourists showed their ability to play the full 80 minutes, by adding a try to Pennell after the fulltime siren.
England was due to be based in Christchurch during the 2011Rugby World Cup but a devastating earthquake in February of that year ruined Christchurch's rugby stadium and prevented any matches being played in the South Island city.
Tuesday's match, the first between the Crusaders and an international team, was partly designed to make up for that forced absence. The jerseys worn by England players will be auctioned for a charity benefiting earthquake victims.