With Toby Flood bound for Toulouse and Freddie Burns’ poor form for Gloucester this season, Danny Cipriani has emerged as a viable contender to back up Owen Farrell for England fly-half in this year’s Six Nations.
Firmly established as Sale’s first choice No.10 over Nick McLeod and Joe Ford, Cipriani’s game has seen significant improvements in areas he was vehemently criticised for last year, not limited to tackling, in-game composure and place-kicking. Cipriani has emerged as not only a scintillating attacking player capable of turning a game on it’s head with a well-place kick or pass but a consistent performer committed to the less glamorous aspects he tended to avoid last year.
George Ford and Owen Farrell excluded, Cipriani has been the most impressive No.10 in the Aviva Premiership this season and his play would make it difficult to envision Stuart Lancaster ignoring him when the England team is to be selected.
Losing Cipriani for six weeks during a tough run of games with European knockout fixtures likely looming is in no way favourable for Sale, but for the North-West based club, it may be a blessing in disguise.
Over the last few seasons, Sale have been one of the most under-represented clubs for England selection with only one player selected for any England duty (Elite and Saxons) in the past year (Henry Thomas whose selection was based more on potential).
Indeed one of Sale’s biggest problems in recent years has been being able to hold onto young, English players who aspire for England selection and success and who have been motivated to move elsewhere due to the lack of scrutiny they received whilst playing for Sale with notable examples including Carl Fearns, Luther Burrell, Matthew Tait and Kearnen Myall.
So with rumours abound that young stalwarts Henry Thomas and James Gaskell are considering leaving Sale at the end of the season to pursue international recognition, perhaps an England selection for Cipriani can at least make them reconsider and think it not impossible to be both an integral part of the Northern club and be picked for the England Elite squad.
Sale, with links to rugby schools in Sandbach, have developed a core of talented English players, all of whom are under 25 and are aspiring England/Saxon selections. A deserved call up for Cipriani does not necessarily guarantee the likes of Harrison, Taylor, Thomas, Gaskell and Miller will opt to remain at Sale for 10-15 year careers, but it does give reassurance to all that Sale players can play a role for England in 2015 and beyond.