Rugby: Cipriani back in England contention

When Danny Cipriani was first selected for test duty, he was seen as the 'golden boy' of English rugby and the natural heir to Jonny Wilkinson. Photo / Getty Images
When Danny Cipriani was first selected for test duty, he was seen as the 'golden boy' of English rugby and the natural heir to Jonny Wilkinson. Photo / Getty Images

Danny Cipriani's six-year England rugby union exile came to an end Thursday when he was named in a preliminary training squad ahead of next month's tour of New Zealand.

Not since the fly-half won the last of his seven caps in 2008 has Cipriani had any senior England involvement but his call-up by coach Stuart Lancaster was acknowledgement of a fine season at Sale, where he helped the north-west side to a sixth-placed finish in the Premiership.

However, Lancaster only named a 20-strong squad on Thursday from the six of the 12 Premiership clubs whose season is now over.

When Cipriani was first selected for Test duty, he was seen as the `golden boy' of English rugby and the natural heir to Jonny Wilkinson.

But a questionable attitude and an off-field `celebrity' did not sit well with the then England management.

However, Lancaster said the 26-year-old had deserved his recall, telling reporters: "Danny is back because of his form at Sale.

He's played well. I take my decisions based on what the coaches say and what I see myself.

"I spoke to Danny prior to the Six Nations, giving him areas to work on which he has done. His club have done a fantastic job of making him a more rounded and mature person.''

Lancaster is naming his squad in stages because Saracens, Northampton, Leicester and Harlequins are all involved in this weekend's English Premiership play-offs while the following weekend Bath and Northampton contest the European Challenge Cup final and Saracens play French holders Toulon in the European Cup final.

In addition, Wasps have a two-legged play-off against Paris-based Stade Francais on May 18 and 24 for the final place in next season's Rugby Champions Cup, the successor tournament to the European Cup.

And that means Cipriani could yet miss out on a three-Test series with the world champion All Blacks, matches Lancaster has put a high premium on ahead of next year's World Cup in England.

The final squad for the tour, and the June 1 warm-up match against the Barbarians, is named on May 26 and the first Test against New Zealand takes place on June 7, just a week after the Premiership final.

"I think it's ridiculous,'' Northampton and England flanker Tom Wood of the fixture clash.

"It splits your loyalties and it is a question you should never have to ask yourself...You should be doing the best you can for your club and playing yourself into contention for your country. The two should never be in conflict.''

England training squad announced Thursday for the non-cap international against the Barbarians and the tour of New Zealand:

Full Squad
Kieran Brookes (Newcastle), Freddie Burns (Gloucester, Danny Cipriani (Sale), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), Dave Ewers (Exeter), Sam Hill (Exeter), Tom Johnson (Exeter), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester), Jonny May (Gloucester), Ben Morgan (Gloucester), Michael Paterson (Sale), Chris Pennell (Worcester), Dan Robson (Gloucester), Charlie Sharples (Gloucester), Henry Slade (Exeter), Tommy Taylor (Sale), Henry Thomas (Sale), Henry Trinder (Gloucester), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Marland Yarde (London Irish).

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