England’s Rugby World Cup Fly Half Selection Debate

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Danny Cipriani
BATH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 08: Danny Cipriani of Gloucester Rugby reacts at the final whistle during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Gloucester Rugby at the Recreation Ground on September 8, 2018 in Bath, United Kingdom. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

With the Rugby World Cup in Japan less than a year away Eddie Jones’ England side remains unclear. The fly half position, which seemed settled last year is now one the most debated positions in the England team.

England’s Rugby World Cup Fly Half Selection

Most would see the selection dilemma as a straight shootout between two candidates. However, Last Word on Rugby will also look at those on the fringes of his squad, in addition to his starting options, to see who is likely to make the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

This selection is made more difficult as it is likely to be dependent on the centre combination Jones opts for. This article will explore all the options Jones has available to him.

Danny Cipriani

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This time last year the idea of Cipriani starting for England at the Rugby World Cup was almost unimaginable. However, much can happen in twelve months and as a result Cipriani is now a front runner to be England’s starting fly half.

Cipriani dazzled for Wasps, which saw him force his way into Jones’ squad for the South Africa series. Here he again impressed, particularly in the third test. His ability to take the ball to the line and his range of passing has made him almost impossible to play against when he is on the front foot.

Cipriani’s move the Gloucester raised many eyebrows, but he appears to be continuing where he left off which will impress Jones no end. However, the drama that has surrounded Cipriani for his whole career does not show any sign of abating. A recent indiscretion during pre-season does not appear to have harmed him too much. However, when coupled with persistent rumours that suggest he disrupted the team culture at Wasps, some would argue that Cipriani is too much of a risk for Jones to take on.

At this point in time it seems as if Cipriani has all the momentum in his favour. Whether he can continue to play at the level he currently is and shake off his coloured past remains to be seen. However, if Cipriani behaves himself off the field and performs on it there is no reason that he cannot make the plane to Japan.

George Ford

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During England’s record equaling winning streak from 2015-17 it looked as if no-one could displace George Ford. Nowadays the landscape looks very different. Ford fell out of form last season for Leicester and although his performances for England were acceptable calls for him to be dropped grew.

He was eventually replaced by Cipriani in the third Test in South Africa and now faces an uphill battle to regain the shirt. His cause was struck a big blow as Ford’s Leicester slumped to an uninspiring 40-6 defeat to Exeter in round one of the Premiership. However, things look to be turning around for the former Bath man as he was a standout performer in Leicester’s victory over Newcastle in round two.

Like Cipriani, when on the front foot Ford is mesmerising but his defence has long been under question. To force his way back to an England starting berth at the Rugby World Cup, Ford needs to continue this upsurge in form. His chemistry with Farrell is undeniable and Ford’s history of success in an England shirt gives him a strong shot at regaining his jersey come Rugby World Cup time.

Owen Farrell

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Jones seems set on Farrell as an inside centre and has invested an awful lot of time in him there to change now. However, with Manu Tuilagi now back to full fitness a re-organisation of the England backmline to accommodate him is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Additionally, Farrell controls Saracens excellently from fly half so there is no question in his ability to do the job. However, Jones has persisted with a ‘ball playing’ inside centre and other than Farrell there a few candidates that can fulfil this position. This makes a move to 10 rather unlikely for Farrell but is it an option that Jones should consider?

The Outsiders

Joe Simmonds

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After a breakthrough season last year many were backing Joe Simmonds to make the plane to South Africa. Jones did not quite see it this way but the Exeter man shows great promise for the future.

In order for him to join his brother in the national setup, Simmonds needs to nail down the Chiefs fly half jersey. This is something he still appears to be sharing with Steenson. It would be pretty shocking to see Simmonds play a big role in Japan, but if he has another big season he may just sneak into the wider squad.

Marcus Smith

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In a weak Harlequins side last season Marcus Smith struggled at times and his inexperience showed. However, in what appears to be a much-improved Harlequins outfit Smith looks as if he is able to kick on a make an impact on this season’s premiership.

Jones has invested a lot of time in Smith as one of his ‘apprentice players’ but despite this he is yet to receive international honours. Similarly to Simmonds it would be unlikely to expect Smith to overtake the likes of Cipriani and Ford but not impossible for him to squeeze his way into the squad.

The fact that Jones clearly has Smith earmarked as one for the future is significant. Therefore he has the edge of Simmonds and is more likely to be part of Jones’ plans for 2019.

Freddie Burns

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Seemingly completely out in the cold from Jones’ setup it would be a remarkable story if Freddie Burns was able to make comeback to the international scene. Having been earmarked by many for greatness, Burns has failed to nail down a starting shirt in the Premiership. Nowadays he finds himself in a battle for the Bath 10 shirt with Rhys Priestland.

However, if Burns can overcome Priestland and become a regular starter he has all the tools to become a fantastic out half. He has a strong running game and a great range of passing making him a handful for even the best defences.

Despite his talents it looks as if the 2019 world cup is beyond Burns but an international recall at some points is not out of the question.

Concluding points – Who should Jones pick but who will he pick?

For the England starting berth it looks as if Jones has a straight pick between Ford and Cipriani. If Cipriani continues as he his he will be almost impossible to ignore but if Ford can surge back to his best I think he will get the nod from Jones going off prior selections.

Much of this decision will be form dependent but at their best Ford edges it for me. Farrell looks set to slot in alongside one of these two at inside centre. With this combination in mind Ford looks a better bet if he can regain his form. However, come the Rugby World Cup will Jones look to take a third fly half and open the door for one of the aforementioned players?

Given his other options that can cover fly half such as Slade and Farrell its unlikely Jones’ will opt for a third specialist 10. However, so much has changed in the last 12 months, we would not rule out any more surprises between now and the Rugby World Cup next year. If Simmonds was to continue his form from last season he could be an excellent inclusion into Jones’ Rugby World Cup squad.

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