By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Danny Cipriani was included in the latest England Rugby World Cup training squad on Friday, though the flyhalf still looks a long shot to make the plane for Japan in September.
Coach Eddie Jones is building his squad in increments, this one including players Gloucester and Northampton, the losing Premiership semi-finalists, who are now available after their mandatory five-week rest period.
Next week he will name his full training squad – including a large number of players from Saracens and Exeter – the Premiership finalists – and will cull several of those currently involved.
“It has been a really positive week, we have worked on our fundamentals of the game, a little bit of physical conditioning and I am really pleased with the attitude of the players,” Jones said in a statement.
“They have all come back from their leave in excellent condition and the best I have seen in the time I have been with England.
“Next week we’ll add some players and be looking to improve our physical conditioning, ability to understand how we want to play the game and start to increase the pressure at training.”
Cipriani, 31, had a superb season with Gloucester and was named Premiership player of the year and RPA players’ player.
Despite that, he remains third in the England pecking order behind Owen Farrell and George Ford and, with Jones likely to take only two flyhalves to the World Cup, looks set to miss out again having never featured in the sport’s premier event.
He won the last of his 16 caps on the tour of South Africa in June 2018 and that was his first start for 10 years. He was subsequently omitted from the squads for the November internationals and this year’s Six Nations.
Jones has previously said he is unconcerned about Cipriani’s “baggage” from a colourful past off the pitch that dates back to his original call-up by Brian Ashton when he was 20.
The bigger issue appears to be the way he plays the game, which generally means Cipriani running the show, and not always along the same lines as his coaches would like.
Cipriani’s Gloucester halfback partner, New Zealand-born Willi Heinz, was also included in Friday’s squad.
England provisional training squad:
Forwards: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins), Tom Dunn (Bath Rugby), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints), Val Rapava Ruskin (Gloucester Rugby), Nick Schonert (Worcester Warriors), Brad Shields (Wasps), Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons).
Backs: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Cipriani (Gloucester Rugby), Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby), Elliot Daly (Wasps), George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Piers Francis (Northampton Saints), Willi Heinz (Gloucester Rugby), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath Rugby), Dan Robson (Wasps), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge)