Cipriani, Easter back in England squad for Six Nations
LONDON (AP) — Veteran No. 8 Nick Easter was handed a chance to revive his England career when he was summoned for the Six Nations on Wednesday, three years after his last appearance was tarnished by a crass dressing-room remark.
The 36-year-old Easter hasn’t played for his country since the tame loss to France in the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarterfinals, after which he said it was “35 grand (thousand pounds) down the toilet” — a reference to the bonus the players would have picked up for winning.
A comment intended to lighten the mood following a forgettable campaign in New Zealand backfired when it was leaked in a review into England’s World Cup debacle, affecting Easter’s reputation and seemingly reflecting a mercenary approach by the team.
Yet, Easter has defied his age by being one of the top performers in English domestic rugby this season with Harlequins, and was recalled ahead of England’s Six Nations opener against Wales on Feb. 6, benefiting from a serious leg injury to rival No. 8 Ben Morgan this month. Easter will likely be backup to Billy Vunipola.
“Particularly with Ben Morgan’s injury, there’s a need for specialist No. 8s in the squad,” England coach Stuart Lancaster said. “Nick, to be fair, has been outstanding and deserves his opportunity to come in and prove he can replicate that at international level.
“We have always kept an eye on what he has been doing.”
There was also a recall for gifted flyhalf Danny Cipriani, who played on the June’s tour to New Zealand — ending a five-year international exile — but was dropped again for the November tests. He is one of four No. 10s in a 34-man training squad, and is likely to be no higher than third choice.
Cipriani, whose international career never kicked on after an eye-catching debut in 2008, was linked with a move to big-spending French club Toulon if he continued to be ignored by England, which picks only overseas-based players in exceptional circumstances.
“I don’t see where this ‘last-chance idea’ has come from,” Lancaster said. “I see Danny being around for hopefully the next three to four years.
“Selection will come down ultimately not to previous reputation or what people have done in the past, it’s what they do every week for their clubs.”
Lock Courtney Lawes and center Manu Tuilagi missed out because of injury, and there was no place for union convert Sam Burgess, who had to settle for a place in the second-string Saxons after playing just five first-team games in the 15-man code.
Burgess is set pull on an England shirt for the first time against Ireland Wolfhounds in Cork on Jan. 30, the first step in his goal to make the senior squad for this year’s World Cup.
“It’s great to get a first taste of international rugby,” said Burgess, who will play at inside center. “It’s a long way until the World Cup. I’ll take it step by step.”
Key front-row forwards Alex Corbisiero, Dan Cole, Mako Vunipola and Tom Youngs as well as lock Geoff Parling all return after missing the November tests with injuries. Jonathan Joseph is in for Tuilagi, who will miss the start of the Six Nations with a groin problem to deprive England of a player Lancaster sees as his most important back.
England: Forwards: Dave Attwood, Calum Clark, Dan Cole, Alex Corbisiero, Nick Easter, Dylan Hartley, James Haskell, Graham Kitchener, George Kruis, Joe Marler, Geoff Parling, Chris Robshaw (captain), Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, David Wilson, Tom Wood, Tom Youngs. Backs: Brad Barritt, Mike Brown, Luther Burrell, Danny Care, Danny Cipriani, Kyle Eastmond, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Alex Goode, Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May, Stephen Myler, Jack Nowell, Billy Twelvetrees, Anthony Watson, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Youngs.