British and Irish Lion Charlie Hodgson has been urged to stake a claim for England’s fly-half position against the All Blacks in Auckland.
Danny Cipriani and Jonny Wilkinson – Hodgson’s principal rivals for the England number 10 shirt – will both miss next month’s New Zealand tour after undergoing ankle and shoulder operations respectively.
And while England could still turn to either Olly Barkley or Toby Flood to step in, both players primarily play their club rugby at inside centre.
Hodgson, whose 30-cap Test career has been blighted by injury setbacks that underpinned him missing the last two World Cup campaigns, will start in Sunday’s non-cap Twickenham clash against the Barbarians.
And with the All Blacks awaiting England less than a fortnight later, it is a golden opportunity for Hodgson to reaffirm his credentials.
Tour manager Rob Andrew said: “We want Charlie to play and stake a claim for being in contention for the first Test.
“He is a great player and he has been running the show this week with Flood at 12.
“I am looking forward to seeing them play together and mixing up the game, setting the foundations for when we go to New Zealand.”
While Hodgson prepares for a pivotal game in terms of his future representative prospects, England are continuing to come to terms with Wasps prodigy Cipriani’s long-term absence.
He is unlikely to play again this year due to a fracture dislocation of his ankle during Wasps’ Premiership play-off victory over Bath 10 days ago.
Andrew added: “The loss of Danny is a big blow for the player as much as anything.
“Any injury for a professional player is a massive blow, but to get such a serious one at so young an age when he has made such an impression this year, you could not get a worse situation than that.
“It is the nature of sport.
“The medical people are very pleased with the way his operation went. There are no reports of any complications but with any major surgery you have to wait and see.
“There are many examples of players coming back from this type of injury – (former Wales and Lions wing) Ieuan Evans is a good example.
“Pace was an important part of his game and he came back to a very high level after his injury.”