Adam Hathaway looks back on a week dominated by the C-word and says an Exeter No.8 is unlucky he is not a bigger bloke.
It was fun and games at Twickenham last Thursday when the England head coach took us on another tour of the world according to Eddie Jones.
RugbySpy bows to no-one in its admiration of Jones as a coach, we first encountered him when he was boss of the Wallabies about a million years ago, but his selection policy has more twists than an episode of Bodyguard.
His most recent squad was announced last week and consisted of 36 players who headed to Bristol on Sunday for a couple of days training and a bit of commercial work.
Quite a lot of commercial work actually – according to Jones they are spending a day of the camp with sponsors. But Twickenham could probably do with the cash and there is nothing the boss can do about it.
And when Joe Marler, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Nick Schonert all withdrew from the camp on Sunday night you can see what Jones is up against.
But on Thursday, as usual, Eddie did not disappoint and a big chunk of the press conference was taken up by the C-word.
The omissions of James Haskell, Dave Attwood and Dan Cole, the lack of an alternative to Owen Farrell at No.12, George Ford’s form, feeding the team Japanese food and the potential of playing Newcastle’s Mark Wilson at openside all got an airing.
But the top line was Danny Cipriani and why he was left out after being the starting fly-half in England’s most recent Test in Cape Town.
There, back in June, Danny Boy had made a try for Jonny May as England clawed back a bit of respectability with a 25-10 win to lose the series 2-1.
Cipriani has made a decent enough start at Gloucester although the hype over a couple of passes that have made tries for team mates has been off the scale. Farrell and Ford can throw those passes but what had Danny done wrong to be left out after being the man in possession?
Jones said it had nothing to do with Cipriani’s brush with the law in Jersey on a pre-season trip with Gloucester and it was all to do with form and getting enough training into his two preferred 10s, Ford and Farrell.
“Ten is a very influential position,” Jones told us. “He’s the bus driver of the side and he’s the conductor of the side and if Danny is a better player than Owen and George he can certainly promote himself ahead of them.
“From what I’ve seen at the moment, he’s not in terms of the whole context of the team. But, certainly he’s a good player and he’s done some good things but there’s areas of his game that he needs to attend to and I’ve spoken to him about that. He understands it, his club understands it and they’re going to work very hard to fix those areas.”
Jones was referring to Cipriani’s work off the ball and said one of the reasons he actually went to Premiership games every week was to see the big picture – not just the bits when a player has the ball in his hands that are on the goggle box.
Then although some of his stats might have been a bit wobbly he told us this.
“A game of test match rugby is 100 minutes,” he added. “The ball is in play 40 minutes. So if you are a no. 10 you might touch the ball 15 times for one second. So you’ve only got the ball in hand for 15 seconds so what you do the other 39 minutes 45 seconds is vital and you don’t see that on television. What you do off the ball is massively influential in the game.
“I take selection seriously. I want to make sure that when I’m selecting, I’m selecting the best players. You can’t see that on television.” We’ll leave the fact that John Mitchell won’t attending a huge heap of games in his new role as defence coach for another day.
So, no Danny then for the time being and he looks like he has got his work cut out to get back in for the autumn internationals.
Then we had a look at the fixture list.
On Sunday Gloucester were at Allianz Park to play Saracens and that meant Farrell v Cipriani and a chance for Danny to show Eddie what he was missing.
And as a fully paid-up member of the tabloid hack pack this was too good for RugbySpy to miss but it fell flat on its face and Cipriani barely got a look in. Sports desks love a head-to-head especially when one of the participants has featured as much in their front pages as they have on the back.
A lot of 10s can look good on the front foot but Cipriani was rarely on the front as the Sarries pack – led by an inspired Maro Itoje, did a number on Gloucester’s fat boys on their way to a 35-18 win.
Farrell enjoyed plenty of ball and pulled the strings. He had a direct hand in three tries and his orchestration of the attack for what seemed about 20 phases before Sean Maitland scored the fourth try was a master class.
He was continually changing the point of attack and probing the Gloucester defence to find a weakness until it cracked. And crack it did as Farrell ended the debate about who the best 10 in the country is and he is probably the best 12. Whether he will play fly-half against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia is a different matter.
One thing seems inevitable and that is that Cipriani won’t be involved, although RugbySpy would like to see him on the bench, and another rack of games ahead of the World Cup will tick by. We are pretty sure that Cipriani could have had a decent afternoon if he was playing behind the Saracens’ forwards but hey, ho, those are the breaks.
Jones’ explanation for his training squad selection and that he only wanted two 10s so they could train properly, with limited time in Bristol, was plausible. But that won’t be any consolation to Cipriani who, don’t forget, stayed in the Premiership after leaving Wasps to keep his England prospects alive.
It looks like he is running the Gloucester team, like Farrell runs Saracens and England, but that will probably not be enough when push comes to shove.
Gloucester’s head coach Johan Ackermann informed us: “It is not all about Danny and what he did do or didn’t do. He has had setbacks in his life before and he is taking it on the chin. He is an experienced player and has experienced disappointment before – there is not much he can do. If England want two 10s and an extra centre that is the way you divide the cake.”
At the moment Cipriani can’t have his cake and eat it.
Rob Baxter gave an illuminating interview on BT Sport on Friday night when he was asked what his No.8 Sam Simmonds needed to get in the England team as the day before he had been left out of the training camp in Bristol.
Baxter told Martin Bayfield ‘about another 30 kilos’.
Simmonds had just scored two tries, to make it five in the three games he has played in, as Exeter won 24-17 away at Newcastle.
The boy can play for sure.
According to Premiership Rugby’s media guide, Simmonds weighs in at 103kg which is a touch over 16 stone in old money.
And according to the same tome Billy Vunipola tips the scales at 130kg which is about 20 stone in old money.
No-one is denying that Vunipola is the best No.8 in England. On his day he puts the fear of God into opposing defences with his ball carrying but there should still be a place for a lighter player somewhere. We can’t all look like Charles Atlas and not get sand kicked in our faces.
Simmonds could easily end up as a No.7, or 6, but he is an 8 and used as a ball carrier by the Chiefs – so 8 he plays for them. And he does it pretty well.
But rugby used to be a game for all sizes.
In 2015 we reported how Graham Rowntree, then England forwards’ coach, had been telling the players not to get bigger. Just get better.
But it seems like that has been knocked into cocked hat in the modern day when 18 stone wingers are two-a-penny and the great Jonah Lomu would not be considered a big specimen.
And that is a shame.