Eddie Jones insists form and not his latest disciplinary lapse has resulted in Danny Cipriani’s exclusion from England’s training squad.
Three impressive starts as Gloucester’s playmaker were expected to propel Cipriani into the 36-man party for a brief camp that begins in Bristol on Sunday, despite his conviction for common assault and resisting arrest in August.
But Jones insists the 30-year-old widely considered England’s most gifted attacking fly-half remains below Owen Farrell and George Ford in the pecking order.
“He’s the bus driver and 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 that in terms of the whole context of the team.
“Certainly he’s a good player and he’s done some good things, but there are areas of his game that he needs to attend to and I’ve spoken to him about that.
“He understands it, his club understand it and they’re going to work very hard to fix those areas.”
Ford has joined Cipriani in excelling in the early stages of the Gallagher Premiership, seemingly revitalised by Matt O’Connor’s removal as Leicester head coach after the opening day rout at Exeter.
Given greater freedom to run the attack, Ford was superb against Newcastle and Wasps – without receiving the acknowledgement he deserves, according to Jones.
“George has been really good. He’s got back to being what he’s good at and that’s taking the ball square and flat, attacking the line, looking for opportunities,” Jones said.
“To me, it’s interesting… I go and watch three club games a week and some of the quality of George’s play is absolutely outstanding.
“But it’s like he’s an invisible man. Whereas one other player (Cipriani) throws one pass and he’s Superman.”
Manu Tuilagi makes his first appearance in an England squad in over a year after overcoming a dreadful succession of injuries.
Serious groin and knee problems have prevented the nation’s most destructive threequarter from making an international start since 2014, his last appearance coming as a replacement against Wales two years ago.
The 27-year-old has started all three of Leicester’s games this season and capped a fine performance against Newcastle with a try.
“I’ve never seen him have as much energy and acceleration since I saw him play in a video. He’s been really good,” said Jones, who believes he can play inside or outside centre.
“It seems to suggest that each week he’s getting a little bit better, a little more in the game.
“The way Leicester are playing now affords him more opportunities in the game which will only keep improving him. He just seems to be mentally in the game.”