Two significant stumbling blocks stand between Danny Cipriani and England’s No.10 shirt but the fly-half is adamant it’s nothing an eye-catching training camp can’t topple. Premiership player of year George Ford and Owen Farrell – a British & Irish Lion and still just 23 – will go head-to-head in pursuit of a starting berth at this year’s World Cup.
But waiting in the wings is Cipriani, the maverick stand-off who won his first Red Rose cap way back in 2008 as a fresh-faced 20-year-old.
Last summer the Sale Sharks talisman ended an England exile that began not long after his 21st birthday, before three substitute appearances in this year’s Six Nations served to suggest he is right back in head coach Stuart Lancaster’s plans.
Farrell, who missed the Six Nations with a knee problem, and Ford – already established as one of the Northern Hemisphere’s premier fly-halves – stand between Cipriani and a first outing in England’s No.10 shirt for almost seven years.
And while those two prepare to go head-to-head in this weekend’s Premiership final, he is quietly preparing to join England’s 50-man World Cup training squad and playing the sort of rugby Lancaster simply can’t ignore.
“There are obviously going to be people who have got their names under the jersey but when it comes down to it if you have an outstanding camp, you’re going to get picked,” said Cipriani, who is working with Emirates, an Official Worldwide Partner for Rugby World Cup 2015, for the next 11 weeks on their Find the Flag competition.
“The coaches are very open with that and they do pick on form and how people train. It was nice to see my name in that 50-man squad but there is obviously still a lot of hard work to go in. There are so many quality players in all different positions.
“It’s going to be down to me and how I conduct myself in training camp and how I train every single day, making sure I do improve. If I set myself that task over the next two or three months, then it will help me become a better rugby player and hopefully put my hand up to be included.
“There is a very strong group of talented players throughout the whole back line. At fly-half I would like to think I bring some experience as I have been around for almost ten years now.
“Playing an up-tempo game and a well-structured game is something that I do enjoy and hopefully in those pressure situations I can show why I’m on the field.
“I have been very fortunate to be part of successful teams at a young age and enjoying the big occasion is something I’ve always done and every rugby player wants to do.”
While Cipriani is focussed on stealing Ford’s shirt in time for the World Cup, he is also quick to warn the Bath playmaker than a fit-again Farrell – who practically owned the jersey until last autumn – is a significant threat.
“When you’ve had an injury and you return to action, you do come back a lot hungrier – especially when someone has taken your shirt,” added Cipriani, who is encouraging teenagers in 11 host cities around England and Wales to find the hidden flag to be in with a chance to lead a competing nation out onto the pitch during the Tournament later this year.
“That is going to bring some intensity to the camp itself. In every position there are going to be little battles and interesting conflicts – in a good way – which is only going to push the standard of the team. It is going to make sure the people who do get selected are the best men for the job.
“I think they are both a similar sort of age but they have both been around for a while, Owen in particular, and one of them will add a Premiership medal to their locker this weekend.
“It will be interesting to see their little battle and how that plays out but it’s also great to see two budding young tens fighting for the Premiership this weekend and for the No.10 spot for England.”
And Cipriani is hoping he won’t soon have another upstart to compete with – instead urging Exeter Chiefs utility man Henry Slade to settle down in the centres.
He added: “I have played against Henry and seen him at training and he is obviously a very good young prospect. He has got that versatility, he plays in all sorts of positions – it is now just about trying to nail down that one spot.
“He has done the right thing for his club and moved around and I think he has played some of his best rugby in the centres – he can also play 12 even though he hasn’t played there much this year.
“It is exciting to see young talented boys like that coming through and if I can offer any experience and advice throughout the camp, then hopefully that can help.”
Emirates ‘Find the Flag’ competition is encouraging young fans to celebrate rugby coming to their home city. By locating the hidden flag and sharing a selfie, fans will have the opportunity to win the chance to be an official Flag Bearer at Rugby World Cup 2015. Visit Emirates social channels to follow the flag.