Danny Cipriani could make World Cup squad as emergency scrum-half

Danny Cipriani is likely to feature in England’s wider World Cup training squad next month after it emerged the Barbarians were blocked from selecting him for the match at Twickenham on Sunday. It is also understood his hopes of being included in the final World Cup squad may hinge on whether Eddie Jones gambles by selecting only two scrum-halves with the possibility of Cipriani doubling up as an emergency No 9 also mooted.

Cipriani was in theory available to play for the Barbarians against an England XV this weekend after Gloucester failed to reach Saturday’s Premiership final but the fact that Pat Lam, who is coaching the invitational side, was denied access to him suggests Jones has earmarked him to be part of his wider training squad next month.
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Jones will name a final training squad in early July once everyone playing this weekend has completed his five-week mandatory rest period. The first batch of players – those from clubs not involved in the Premiership play-offs – will convene in mid‑June while those from the losing semi-finalists, including Cipriani, can be added a week later.

“He wasn’t available,” Lam said. “I’m predicting that the ones that weren’t available – and this isn’t guaranteed – but you are expecting to see them in their [countries’] World Cup squads. He was unavailable because there are some players that want to play but they have to be signed off by the unions or clubs. Once I talk to the player and they are keen they have to be signed off and some players weren’t signed off because of World Cup squads.”

While Jones has been expected to pick two specialist No 10s – Owen Farrell and George Ford – when he trims his training squad to the final 31 bound for Japan, it is believed he is also considering selecting only two out-and-out scrum-halves and has been looking for emergency cover as a third.

Ford was tried out as a No 9 in training during the Six Nations and it is believed the idea of Cipriani potentially fulfilling the role has also been explored. It may seem far-fetched, as Cipriani has little experience to speak of at scrum-half, but using him as an option in both half-back positions could ensure his mercurial talents are at Jones’s disposal in Japan without compromising space in his squad.

Jones made a similar call in 2015 when he picked only two scrum-halves in his Japan squad with the fly-half Kosei Ono providing cover. In addition the fact that he regularly used Nathan Hughes as a second-row off the bench during the Six Nations and has often designated Henry Slade as full-back cover shows Jones’s desire to have greater versatility in his squad.

Cipriani was handed his first Test start for a decade by Jones last summer but has since been overlooked by England despite a stunning season for Gloucester, culminating in being named the Rugby Players’ Association and the Premiership player of the year.