CAPE TOWN – Danny Cipriani could not have asked for a better audition for next year’s World Cup after being tasked with lifting England out of their current winless run with a first Test start in a decade against South Africa at Newlands on Saturday.
The flyhalf is something of a mercurial figure – his rugby talent never questioned, but with a reputation of falling foul of authority hanging over him.
He can help to change that perception though if he can guide his side to victory in the third Test by controlling the game with his tactical kicking and eye for space with the ball in hand.
He has cut a more mature figure on this South African tour, and been widely praised by coach Eddie Jones for his work-rate and commitment in training. His reward is the No 10 jersey in place of George Ford.
With England having already surrendered the three-match series after losing the first two games, an assured performance for Cipriani in what is expected to be wet conditions in Cape Town would be a huge lift for his chances of playing at the World Cup in Japan next year.
“The journey has prepared me for it,” he told reporters. “Sale (Sharks) was a completely different experience. Then going to Wasps again, it was a different way of playing rugby and you have to feel it out there in terms of momentum, how’s your position, how’s everybody in your team, what’s been happening the last couple of minutes.
“I think one of the great parts about rugby is having to work and learn with different players. Constantly as a 10, you’re trying to think about the best solution.”
Jones says he picked Cipriani for his left-footed kicking option, with England captain Owen Farrell alongside him in the No 12 jersey able to boot the ball off his right.
Cipriani is looking forward to seeing how their partnership can blossom.
“He’s an extremely talented guy, very, very driven, you see how he leads and how he plays with his heart on his sleeve,” Cipriani said of Farrell. “It’s exciting to try and get some good chemistry within that, getting the balance, and I feel like we’re getting that this week.
“It has gone really well in training, and I know on Saturday that vibe is going to be there as both of us have that same bigger picture and want England to do well. That’s what it comes down to.”
Cipriani has 15 caps since making his debut in 2008, and made his last start that year in a 42-6 loss to the Springboks at Twickenham. He ended three years in the international wilderness with an appearance off the bench in the 23-12 loss to the Boks in Bloemfontein last weekend.
15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Mike Brown, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler.
Bench: Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Sam Simmonds, 22 Ben Spencer, 23 Denny Solomona.Reuters