Danny Cipriani may have issued a timely reminder of his craft and versatility but World Cup winner Matt Dawson believes the Sale Sharks star’s England hopes may be dashed by the rise of Henry Slade.
A try-scoring cameo at full-back in which he helped spark England’s back line into life saw Cipriani named man-of-the-match in defeat to France in Paris last weekend.
That showing suggested the 27-year-old was capable of playing a utility role in head coach Stuart Lancaster’s final 31-man World Cup squad similar to that performed by Mike Catt in the 2003 triumph in Australia.
While acknowledging the need for such a flexible player, former scrum-half Dawson is confident Exeter Chiefs starlet Slade has stamped his mark in Lancaster’s plans after an impressive debut in victory over Les Bleus at Twickenham.
And although Cipriani has also advanced his cause, Dawson insists that the maverick fly-half’s World Cup dreams hang on the balance that England are hoping to strike with their squad, with rumours abound that he will miss out.
“I think Cipriani did great at the weekend and the whole bench did really well when they came on,” said Dawson.
“Like those other players, Cips really put his hand up and said to Stuart Lancaster, ‘This is what I can do and is it good enough for your squad?’”
“It’s up to Stuart now to try and make a call on the balance that he needs there and does he want a utility player who can play 10, 12, 13 or a utility player who can play 11, 14, 15, he needs to make that decision.
“But I think Henry Slade is more akin to Mike Catt than Cipriani – Slade has the ability to play 10, 12, 13 or even 15, he could probably cover everywhere really.
“Then in terms of Cipriani’s chances at No.10, there is no stand-out fly-half now like Jonny was in 2003 but I think right now going into that Fiji game George Ford just about has an edge.”
England kick off this year’s tournament against Fiji at Twickenham on September 18 and face a tough challenge in Pool A with Australia and Wales lying in wait before a final group tie with Uruguay.
After a promising triumph over France on home turf, there was cause for concern as England were dominated at times during last weekend’s 25-20 defeat in Paris raising selection questions in various key positions.
Yet Dawson is adamant Lancaster already knows his preferred starting XV and is only looking to finalise who among the likes of Cipriani and Slade can make an impact off the bench.
And should England get the balance right, Dawson believes the host nation can go on an inspired run to the World Cup final and perhaps even emulate the glory of 2003.
“The game just gone wasn’t pretty to start with but you’d rather be making those mistakes now than in a month’s time,” he added.
“If the World Cup final was tomorrow and England were in it I think Stuart Lancaster would know his 15 that he’d want to play in it.
The periphery and the depth of the squad is where the worry is, that’s where he needs to get it absolutely right.
“It’s about winning that pool and whoever wins that pool have got a genuine chance of being at the final because they’re going to be so hardened, they will fancy their chances against anyone.
“I think the All Blacks are still the team to beat – they proved against Australia recently that they can bounce back when they want to turn it on.
“But whoever wins that Pool A probably doesn’t meet them until the final and you can become super-human in a final without too much difficulty.”
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