While on paper it may be hard to take too many positives away from their 3-0 series defeat in New Zealand this summer, the fact is that Stuart Lancaster will now be preparing for the autumn internationals feeling fairly positive about a lot of what he has seen. Two extremely close games may have been overshadowed by the 36-13 thumping England suffered in the third test in the series at the hands of a merciless All Blacks, in a series the tourists weren’t given much chance in according the Betfair odds.
One of the stand out positives from the tour for Lancaster will be his options at fly half. Freddie Burns, Owen Farrell and Danny Cipriani all made the trip to New Zealand for the tour, with Lancaster giving all three the chance to push their case to start the autumn internationals with the number 10 jersey. With the All Blacks set to arrive in England in the autumn along with Samoa, Australia and South Africa to play the northern hemisphere sides – in four games already exciting Betfair punters – players will know those matches could have a big say in who makes next year’s World Cup squad.
England have been looking for a man to cement himself in the fly half position for much of the past five years as the Jonny Wilkinson era wound down. A number of players have been given their chance at stand-off but Lancaster knows the time is now to find the man who will be England’s number 10 heading into next year’s World Cup.
While Owen Farrell hasn’t let anyone down since breaking into the England side in 2012, the emergence of Freddie Burns at Leicester made it hard for Lancaster to overlook the 24-year old. If choosing between Farrell and Burns wasn’t tough enough for the England head coach, Danny Cipriani’s return to form and favour has seen the Sale star force his way back into the reckoning ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Three years ago, England rugby fans could have been forgiven for not knowing much about Freddie Burns. Now, the Leicester fly-half looks to be leading the race to start next year’s World Cup as the man wearing the number 10 jersey. After catching the eye playing for Gloucester, Burns was called up to the England squad late in December of 2012, making his debut against the All Blacks in the 38-21 victory at Twickenham.
It was obvious from his 15 minute debut that international rugby wasn’t going to faze Burns, who kicked two penalties from two attempts and showed maturity beyond his years to help England see out a win that shocked a number of Betfair fans. The 24-year old’s impressive form last season saw him head on this summer’s tour as Lancaster’s first choice fly-half, starting two of the tests and impressing a lot of people seeing him in an England shirt for the first time.
Burns will now be hoping his move to the Leicester Tigers helps him step up to the next level. It would have been easy for Burns to stay at Gloucester but the youngster took the decision to make the move to Leicester, and the fresh surroundings could be just what the fly half needs to push on and fulfil his clear potential.
With the amount of nepotism that was always going to surround his call-up to an England squad his dad is a coach of, Farrell had even more to prove when he first broke into the national squad in 2012. In his 24 appearances since then, Farrell has gone a long way to proving he is more than worthy of being judged on his own merits and not those of his father.
The Saracens stand-off was perhaps unlucky to be pipped by Burns as the starting fly-half for the tour of New Zealand, especially after a season in which Farrell had played a key role in his club side finishing at the top of the Premiership table and reaching the finals. Farrell’s ability to play in a number of positions could well cost him in his bid to establish himself at 10, with Lancaster well aware that the 22-year old is more than capable of filling in at 12 or 15. That said, there is little doubt Farrell’s best position is controlling things from fly half.
After Burns started the first game, Farrell was recalled for the second test against New Zealand, playing the full 80 minutes and kicking five goals in a timely reminder to the England management team that he is well up for the fight for the jersey. While Farrell didn’t appear again during the tour due to a knee injury, he did his case no harm of starting the autumn back as the first choice number 10.
When he first burst onto the international stage in 2008, it looked as though Danny Cipriani would be England’s fly half for the next 10-plus years. A number of factors – many of them self-induced – have resulted in Cipriani currently finding himself with just nine caps to his name.
There’s little doubt that figure could and should be closer to 50 at this point in his career, there have been times over the past five years when it looked highly unlikely that the former Wasps star would ever pull on an England shirt ever again. While his ability as a player has always made him a player England really need in the squad, Cipriani’s ability to get into trouble no matter where he is has been something England have been less keen on having in the squad.
A huge amount of credit must go to Cipriani for turning his career around since returning to England from Australia. Following his colourful year playing for the Melbourne Rebels, Cipriani made the decision to return to the Premiership with Sale in the hope of resuscitating his England career. An impressive debut season for the Sharks ended with the 26-year old winning his eighth England cap almost six years after his seventh appearance, and Cipriani will be hoping to now push on and cement himself back in the squad in the run-up to next year’s World Cup.