Danny Cipriani was labelled England’s “third-choice fly-half” by coach Eddie Jones as he explained why he had left the in-form playmaker out of his squad for the November internationals at Twickenham.
Cipriani has impressed for Gloucester this season, and was named Premiership player of the month for September.
But that was not enough to persuade Jones to include him in a 36-man squad announced Thursday for next month’s home Tests against South Africa, New Zealand, 2019 World Cup hosts Japan and Australia.
Despite being England’s starting No 10 in their most recent game against South Africa in June and producing an excellent opening to the season at his new club, Jones left him out of an initial training squad and the Australian stuck with his decision on Thursday.
Instead George Ford and Owen Farrell, who can also play at inside centre, are England’s preferred fly-halves. Farrell has also been named as a co-captain alongside regular skipper Dylan Hartley.
“We’ve got two good 10s there,” Jones told a Twickenham news conference. “It’s tough on Danny. He’s our third-choice at the moment but George and Owen are our first-two choices.”
“I’ve had discussions with him (Cipriani). He’s worked on some areas…but there are areas he (still) needs to work on,” added Jones without elaborating on what those areas were.
As for splitting the captaincy, former Australia and Japan coach Jones said: “I think to me it almost became a no-brainer.
“Having watched Dylan captain the side for so many tests and then watching Owen in South Africa, the combination of those two together is just a great fit. Whatever team I’ve coached where we’ve had success you’ve always had two at the top and traditionally they’ve been called a captain and a vice-captain, but I see the role as being co-captains.
“Dylan will handle certain things on the field, Owen will handle certain things, the things that come natural to him, and then off the field we’ve got a great combination because Dylan’s a bit older, Owen’s younger.”
Injuries and suspensions have deprived England of several players, with a six-week ban given to Nathan Hughes early Thursday ruling out another back-row forward after the likes of Billy Vunipola, Sam Simmonds and Chris Robshaw had all been sidelined.
As a result, No 8 Ben Morgan returned for the first time since the 2015 World Cup.
“We’ve always spoken at a World Cup about needing to have the depth of three players in each position and immediately in November we are going to be tested in some positions where we are down to fourth or fifth choice,” said Jones, appointed after 2015 hosts England’s embarrassing first-round exit.
“Obviously Nathan and Billy have been, for the last three years, our front-running No 8s. We’ve brought Ben Morgan back, who has been playing increasingly well for Gloucester.”
In midfield, powerhouse but injury-prone centre Manu Tuilagi was also recalled.
England begin a gruelling programme against the revitalised Springboks on November 3.
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)