South Africa v England: Jones has turned to Cipriani to rescue England

Danny Cipriani.   (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Danny Cipriani. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
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With rich irony, the man Eddie Jones has ignored for most of his tenure as England head coach is now tasked with delivering the victory so desperately needed to perhaps save his own position.

The last time Danny Cipriani started a Test for his country was in 2008.

However, today, in Cape Town, in the third and final Test of a sobering tour of South Africa, he finally gets to do so again.

Not before time.

Granted, for all of the fly-half’s talents, he is the first to admit that many of the reasons he hasn’t represented his country more than a paltry 15 times, are down to his own poor decisions.

That nightclub visit in the middle of the 2008 Six Nations, for instance, or being caught drink-driving the morning after putting 33 points past the Barbarians three years ago.

And, nearer to these parts, who can forget Cipriani being hit by a bus in Leeds when in fancy dress and attempting the famous Otley Run pub crawl on a club night out with Sale Sharks?

Luckily, he was just left concussed and bruised following the collision in 2013 but it was another reminder for the England coach at the time – Stuart Lancaster – about some of the baggage he might bring.

Still, given the way he matured on and off the field at Sale and especially considering his form with Wasps over the last 18 months or so, it has surprised many that it has taken this long to get a look-in under Jones’s reign.

Admittedly, the Australian can argue his selections – largely George Ford at 10 and, if not, Owen Farrell – had been working just fine, given he won 24 of his first 25 Tests in charge of the Red Rose.

There was, then, little need for a maverick talent such as Cipriani’s. However, the 30-year-old warranted a sniff at least and now, thankfully, he has got that at last with Ford dropped entirely.

He faces, though, an invidious position; piloting a demoralised England who are hoping to avoid a sixth straight Test loss and a series whitewash against the Springboks.

Cynics would suggest he’s almost set-up to fail.

Yet, in all reality, Jones is in no position for such histrionics; he badly needs and requires his pick to succeed.

England’s freefall of late has been alarming, to say the least.

Just a few months ago, Jones and his side could do no wrong, not only motoring towards next year’s World Cup but also eagerly awaiting chance to finally pit their wits against the mighty All Blacks at Twickenham.

For so long, the date of November 10 had been pencilled in as the time to see if this England really are primed to end New Zealand’s hold of the Webb Ellis Cup come 2019.

If they lose today, however, some people would argue Jones should not even last the flight home from South Africa as England coach. And they will dread that All Blacks date.

Even a victory today may only paper over cracks but, crucially, it will see the under-pressure Jones able to sign off this summer on a positive before they regather for those autumn internationals.

Cipriani was not even in the matchday squad for the first Test defeat against the Springboks.

However, he did enough in his 13-minute cameo as Ford’s replacement during last week’s 
23-12 defeat in Bloemfontein to persuade Jones he is ready to now take control.

Apparently, his attitude and application throughout the tour has impressed the coach, too, reassuring him he can be trusted at the helm.

Gloucester-bound Cipriani, meanwhile, has spoken this week of his desire to be the ‘calmest’ player on the field today.

Certainly, it is that assuredness and composure, among other things, that the tourists have so badly lacked so far.

In years gone by, he may 
have felt the need too often to chase a game when it was not needed or be too radical in his approach.

But Cipriani is far more measured now and he will need to be at Newlands Stadium when it is expected to be wet and windy.

Jones sees Cipriani’s left foot kicking ability as an option that will come in useful and it will be intriguing to see how he does dovetail with Farrell at No 12.

One thing is for sure. Cipriani sees his journey as just beginning; he wants to face the All Blacks and feature in next year’s World Cup and beyond.

He has waited long enough for this second chance to come.