By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Danny Cipriani’s international career looks to be all but over after the flyhalf was left out of the England squad for the November internationals on Thursday, despite a stellar start to the season for new club Gloucester.
The 30-year-old was omitted from a training squad picked by head coach Eddie Jones last month when he was described as England’s “third or fourth choice flyhalf” and was again left out, with Owen Farrell and George Ford taking number 10 duties.
Elsewhere, Jones had to scout around for other selections against the backdrop of a huge injury and suspension list that robbed him of his top three number eights, leading to a recall for Ben Morgan, whose last game was at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
There are eight uncapped players in the squad: Joe Cokanasiga (Bath), Nathan Earle (Harlequins), Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors), Zach Mercer (Bath), Ben Moon (Exeter), Michael Rhodes (Saracens), Nick Schonert (Worcester Warriors) and Elliott Stooke (Bath).
England start the first of four November tests at Twickenham against South Africa on Nov. 3, before an eagerly-awaited showdown against New Zealand on Nov. 10. They then play Japan on Nov. 17 and finish off against Australia a week later.
Farrell and Dylan Hartley have been named co-captains for all four tests in which Jones will need to forge new combinations with the World Cup in Japan less than a year away.
The back row, in particular, has been decimated, with Billy Vunipola and Sam Simmonds both injured, and Nathan Hughes suspended for the first three games, leading to the recall of 29-year-old Morgan.
Chris Robshaw is also out but that was still not enough to convince Jones to bring in Exeter’s Don Armand, inexplicably overlooked despite consistent excellence in the Premiership, with 21-year-old Mercer handed an unexpected chance to force himself into the World Cup reckoning.
Prop Mako Vunipola is also out of the entire series which, following the early retirement of Joe Marler and the injury absence of Ellis Genge, Matt Mullan and Beno Obano, gives Jones a problem in the front row, particularly at loosehead.
Sale winger Chris Ashton, yet to play for his club this season because of suspension, is also included.
“We can only control what we can control and injuries have happened,” Jones said.
“It gives an opportunity for some good new players to play some important tests for England while players who have been in the squad before will have to take on more responsibility.”
England will fine-tune preparations at a training camp in Portugal, where Jones is hoping to replicate the travel situation his squad will face in Japan next year.
“With the World Cup in mind, we are going to Portugal in the middle of next week until the Thursday of the test week so will be back to train at Twickenham the day before we play South Africa,” he said.
“The camp is about getting the team organised.
“The players have all been playing in different systems and with different ideas at their clubs so it’s about producing a team that is absolutely brutal in the physical contest, as the game demands, and also playing a smart English brand of rugby.”
Forwards (20) – Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (co-captain, Northampton Saints), Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs), Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby), Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), Michael Rhodes (Saracens), Nick Schonert (Worcester Warriors), Brad Shields (Wasps), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Elliott Stooke (Bath Rugby), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs), Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons).
Backs (16) – Chris Ashton (Sale Sharks), Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Nathan Earle (Harlequins), Owen Farrell (co-captain, Saracens), George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Alex Lozowski (Saracens), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by John O’Brien)