Eddie Jones has warned Danny Cipriani that any further off-field transgressions will end his chances of playing in next year’s World Cup. Jones travelled to Gloucester this week for a one-on-one meeting with the fly-half and the England coach has made clear he will not pick players who regularly attract adverse publicity.
Speaking in Newcastle, where England will conclude their preparations for next year’s tournament in Japan with a fourth warm-up Test, against Italy at St James’ Park, Jones stressed he had been pleased with Cipriani’s commitment on tour in South Africa during the summer but the 30-year-old’s arrest and court appearance in Jersey following an altercation outside a nightclub last month did not go unnoticed.
“Everything impacts on selection,” said Jones, who is expected to announce his latest training squad on 20 September. “If a guy gets in trouble all the time you’ve got to have second thoughts about it. We will make a decision on whether he’s going to add value to the team.”
Cipriani was fined £2,000 by a Jersey court as well as his club, who also ordered him to carry out community service after he accepted a charge of assaulting a bouncer and resisting arrest on a pre-season team night out.
Jones attended Gloucester’s game against Northampton at Kingsholm on Saturday when the No 10 was lauded by many for his long try-creating pass to Charlie Sharples. From Jones’s perspective, however, this was not definitive proof the former Wasps and Sale fly-half should be inked in to the starting XV for England’s opening autumn Test against South Africa at Twickenham on 3 November.
“Let’s get it into context,” Jones said. “It was a good pass but there were plenty of good passes at the weekend. Just because one player throws one big pass it doesn’t mean he has a great game. In South Africa he worked well and again at the August camp, he worked well. If he gets an opportunity at the September camp, he’ll have another opportunity to work well. He’ll be judged on what he’s done with us.
“I can’t control what he does with his club. I went down to Gloucester on Monday and had a quick chat with him. If I was going to that [RFU disciplinary] tribunal I would have ironed my jeans … but everyone makes mistakes. He was very contrite afterwards, realised he’s done the wrong thing and we move on.”
Jones appears to be ready to extend another olive branch to Chris Ashton by including him in the England training squad who will gather in Bristol, despite the Sale wing’s seven-week suspension. Ashton is not able to play again before Jones finalises his autumn selection but will be invited to train regardless.
“He’s keen, he’s keen,” Jones said. “He wants to get better, he’s desperate to play for England and he’s got ability. They’re the sort of players we need. I couldn’t have been more pleased with him at the last camp. I’ve only trained with him for three days and he was absolutely fantastic. Everything that people told me about him was true.”
As things stand the Rugby Football Union is still unable to confirm it has officially engaged the former All Blacks coach John Mitchell as the Englanddefence coach, although the New Zealander and the Australian attack consultant Scott Wisemantel look set to be part of a reshuffled backroom staff as England seek to improve a recent strike rate of five defeats in their past six Tests.
Jones, either way, is adamant his squad are still in “a great position” with their World Cup departure a year away and has also defended the scheduling of four matches before the squad’s leave for Japan.
England are committed to home and away games against Wales, an additional Twickenham fixture against Ireland and, finally, that Friday night date with Italy on Tyneside.
Welcome as it is to see the RFU sending its senior men to play Test union in the north-east for the first time, there is a clear risk of more squad members being injured very close to the World Cup.
The squad are already facing draining, hot-weather training camps and could conceivably end up playing no fewer than 20 Tests inside 12 months, but Jones insists the hard yards before a World Cup are non-negotiable.
“I like my players to have approximately 130 minutes of game time before their first game,” he said. “We’ve got Tonga and then the USA four days later, with a travel day in between. We need the majority of the squad of 31 to have some match fitness. We can’t afford players to go in underdone.”