Jonny Wilkinson and Lesley Vainikolo could be the high-profile casualties from England’s Murrayfield horror show.
Andrew Baldock of PA Sport reports that fly-half superstar Wilkinson, England’s 2003 World Cup final match-winner, has never been dropped by his country during a 69-cap international career.
He is the newly-installed world Test points record-holder after passing Welshman Neil Jenkins’ mark for Wales and the Lions of 1090.
But so poor was Wilkinson’s general play against Scotland in yesterday’s 15-9 RBS 6 Nations defeat in Edinburgh that England head coach Brian Ashton needs to assess the exciting alternative of Danny Cipriani – while Charlie Hodgson, a replacement against Scotland, will also be in the selection mix.
Originally picked at full-back for Murrayfield, Cipriani lost his place when he was pictured leaving a London night-spot just after midnight last Thursday.
Ashton has already confirmed the 20-year-old Wasps prospect will report back for England duty in Bath tomorrow evening for next Saturday’s Six Nations finale against Ireland at Twickenham.
The coach must waste little time rushing him back into the side, shaking things up following one of England’s worst performances in the professional era.
Wing Vainikolo, who looks out of his depth as a rugby union Test player, offers little in comparison with players such as his Gloucester colleague James Simpson-Daniel or Sale Sharks’ Mark Cueto.
Ashton will also hope that Wasps flanker James Haskell can shake off an ankle injury time in time to face the Irish. England sorely missed his straight, direct approach at Murrayfield.
What he does – or does not – do with Cipriani, though, will spark most debate.
Ashton, noted as a conservative selector, simply has to take the plunge on such a thrilling talent.
Should England lose to Ireland, they will be left reeling from three Six Nations defeats this term. Their next Test is then against the All Blacks in Auckland.
Ashton, giving little away in terms of individual selections, said: “I would imagine I have a lot of reflection to do. It is a combination of things.
“I think there will be a massive determination to put it back on the road against Ireland next week. We certainly won’t be looking at it as an experimental side, that’s for sure.
“I knew we would have to be at our best (against Scotland). Discipline was the main thing we highlighted, but we put ourselves on the back foot.”
As for Vainikolo’s display and substituting Wilkinson eight minutes from time, Ashton added: “Lesley didn’t have an easy afternoon – he will be the first to admit that.
“I’ve never seen him make the errors he made, and I don’t think I will see them again.
“We just felt maybe doing something different, putting Charlie on with his half-back partner (Richard Wigglesworth) from his club might make something different happen – but I don’t think Charlie had the sort of possession to be able to do that.
“We have to get it out of our system and get it right for next week.
“Sometimes, in situations like this, you don’t have to say anything at all. The rebound effect almost becomes automatic.”
Ashton is also under pressure, with England having failed to build on reaching a second successive World Cup final just five months ago.
There appears to be no obvious gameplan or clear tactical direction, and the vultures could soon be circling above him.
But Ashton insisted: “It doesn’t shake belief in myself.
“If it did, I wouldn’t be here, I would have said ‘thank you very much, goodnight.’
“It is certainly very frustrating. After the French game [England won 24-13] and the performance there, I thought we made some strides forward in certain areas of the game.
“But we just made it very difficult for ourselves because of our lack of discipline in a number of areas.
“You cannot play international rugby and give away as many penalties as we did, especially on a day like that when it was going to be quite difficult to move the ball around the field.
“Our penalty count was unacceptable, but we need to look closely at why we gave those penalties away. It was just unclear what some of those penalties were for.
“You concede points on the scoreboard; you concede territory; you concede possession. Everything you want in a game, you actually concede when your discipline is as poor as that.
“We just had a bad day. We were outplayed – it happens some times.
“I’ve told the players we are all going to get a lot of criticism. We’ve got to ‘front up’ to it and make sure we go back into camp next week and work hard for the Ireland game.”Tweet