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Eddie Jones must look at Saxons stars Danny Cipriani and Dave Attwood

 Danny CiprianiFresh from leading England Saxons to a 2-0 series win in South Africa, head coach Ali Hepher reckons at least half a dozen will push on and challenge for a spot in Eddie Jones’ elite squad.

Top of the list are Danny Cipriani and Dave Attwood,  both making “outstanding” contributions on the recent two-‘Test’ tour to play South Africa A.

Hepher also believes Alec Hepburn, Don Armand, Dan Robson, Nick Tompkins and Mike Haley impressed sufficiently to push for full England contention when Jones names his squad for the November Tests.

Fly-half Cipriani and second-row Attwood, who captained the side, were instrumental for the victorious Saxons and Hepher told The Rugby Paper: “They viewed the tour as a route to the first team rather than a negative and both were outstanding.

“Danny led the attack really well in both games and was crucial to the team performance in terms of his communication and organisation around him. That was excellent and he kicked his goals really well which was a big bonus for us.

“He’s such a threat on the ball and we knew that was a crucial factor in games, but he also worked well within the group and they responded by giving him the options he needed.

“Danny controlled the back end of that tough second game really well and that’s all he can do. He’s got some stiff competition in George Ford and Owen Farrell but he certainly did his case no harm in South Africa.

“As for Dave Attwood, he was very positive from the off and stuck his hand up as a leader on day one. He just wanted to do his best by the lads and he got the best out of them, which was important for him and the team.

“His leadership was outstanding and the importance of the tour was to help guys kick on in their international careers. Like Danny, Dave took his opportunity and both pushed their hands up for senior selection.”

While Jones’ Elite Player Squad (EPS) is settled, Hepher believes the Saxons trip succeeded in bringing a raft of talented young players to prominence.

Exeter prop Hepburn led the way with two energetic displays, while Chiefs back- row colleague Armand, Wasps scrum-half Robson, Saracens centre Tomkins and Sale full-back Haley also have the potential to achieve higher honours.

Hepher said: “In both Tests Alec was lively and while he still has work to do, there’s a lot of talent there and he’s going to quickly start putting pressure on guys in the senior squad.

“Don Armand also played well and was a big part of our defensive unit.

“In the backs, Dan Robson’s quality was there to see. He reads the game so well, plays in space off turnovers and one-on-one he’s as dangerous as any No.9 in the country. It was good to see him playing heads-up rugby in behind defences.

“Nick Tompkins really impressed in the first game. We knew about his outside breaks but he backed it up with a strong defensive game. It was shame Mike Haley got injured so early in the second match, but in the first Test he showed his ability on the ball. He’ll now drive himself to challenge Mike Brown.”

Hepher’s Saxons success has sent his own coaching credentials soaring, but he ruled himself out of the running for the vacant England backs coaching position.

The 41-year-old said: “My mind’s still on knocking Exeter up to another level. It was good to taste international coaching but it was about enhancing my development. My eyes are on winning trophies for Exeter.”

As for future Saxons tours, Hepher believes they are imperative to boost careers of aspiring England players.

With Wales reviving their ‘A’ team, he added: “There’s no reason why more Saxons games can’t be scheduled during the Six Nations, especially on LV= Cup weekends, and it’s important for developing players that the gap between Premiership and full Test rugby is bridged.

“We took a young squad to South Africa and you saw the benefits, so that can only be a good thing for England over the coming years.”

NEALE HARVEY

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