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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 17:39 GMT
Cipriani takes Wilkinson's place
England fly-halves Danny Cipriani and Jonny Wilkinson
Cipriani (left) will try to fill the boots of the record-breaking Wilkinson
Jonny Wilkinson has been dropped from the England team to face Ireland on Saturday and replaced at fly-half by rising star Danny Cipriani.

It is the only change made by coach Brian Ashton to the team which started the 15-9 defeat by Scotland.

Wilkinson has only previously been dropped by England for the 1999 World Cup quarter-final loss to South Africa.

He is demoted to the bench, Charlie Hodgson dropping out of the 22, while

James Haskell returns as a replacement.

The fit-again flanker takes over from from Luke Narraway.

I don't treat anyone as a special player

Head coach Brian Ashton
World Cup-winner Wilkinson set a new record - 1099 - for the most points scored in Test rugby in the defeat by Scotland but was widely criticised after a poor display.

There was speculation that Lesley Vainikolo, among others, could also be dropped, and Ashton admitted James Simpson-Daniel was discussed as a contender, but that an ankle injury had effectively ruled him out of contention.

But the head coach maintained Wilkinson, 28, was not being made a scapegoat for the Calcutta Cup calamity.

"This might seem bizarre but I don't consider him dropped because he is on the bench and still an integral part of our squad," Ashton told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"He is covering 10 and 12 and could come on in the first five minutes and win us the game.

"I have got a tremendous amount of confidence in his ability to bounce back and show himself to be a very confident international player again."

Wilkinson made his England debut as an 18-year-old against Ireland in 1998 and was only previously overlooked by then coach Sir Clive Woodward for the 1999 World Cup quarter-final, in favour of Paul Grayson.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's James Standley
Ashton acknowledged that Wilkinson's inconsistency - "his form has gone up and down" - during the Six Nations had forced his hand, and that the demotion of the 2003 World Cup hero illustrated that "everyone is equal".

"I don't treat anyone as a special player," he explained. "From within the squad it's just another selection decision that had to be made."

Ashton said he would sit down to discuss his decision at length with Wilkinson, but dismissed any notion the decision would spell the end of his Test career.

"Here you've got a guy who has scored more points than anyone else in international rugby, and he is still going to be a valuable member of the squad going forward," he added.

Ashton's decision is a remarkable turnaround for Cipriani.

Originally selected to start against Scotland at full-back, many felt he was harshly treated when axed 48 hours before the game after being seen leaving a nightclub past midnight.

Danny has a vast range of skills and hopefully he will have good authority in terms of his decision-making

Brian Ashton
The 20-year-old Wasps player has won two caps as a replacement during this Six Nations and will be making his first start for England.

"Danny has been playing exceptionally well at 10 for Wasps and was due to play last week but managed to side-step that one," Ashton quipped.

"He is pretty quick on his feet and hopefully we will see him now at long last out on the field in a starting XV.

"He has a vast range of skills and hopefully he will have good authority in terms of his decision-making and his work without the ball. He is going to have to defend as well as attack."

If Cipriani can justify the lavish promise of his Wasps displays on Saturday, he will be in pole position for England's daunting two-Test tour to New Zealand this summer.

Newspaper reports suggest that after 10 defeats in Ashton's 21 Tests in charge, the Rugby Football Union will review whether he remains the right man to take charge for that tour and beyond, following a fifth consecutive poor Six Nations campaign since the 2003 Grand Slam.

But Ashton insisted he remains unflustered by the increasing speculation about his own position.

"There is always pressure in this job. I love doing it and am very lucky to be doing it. We work really hard and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."


England: I Balshaw (Gloucester); P Sackey (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), T Flood (Newcastle), L Vainikolo (Gloucester); D Cipriani (Wasps), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), L Mears (Bath), P Vickery (Wasps. capt), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath), T Croft (Leicester), M Lipman (Bath), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: G Chuter (Leicester), M Stevens (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), P Hodgson (London Irish), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Tait (Newcastle).



SEE ALSO
Ashton determined to make amends
09 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Experts' view on Wilkinson axe
11 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Pundits on Scotland v England
09 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Woodward slams Cipriani decision
09 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Scotland 15-9 England
08 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Wilkinson sets new points record
08 Mar 08 |  English
Cipriani axed from England team
06 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Guscott backs Wilkinson to shine
23 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Cipriani wants Wilkinson's place
22 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Comment: Wilko decision inevitable
11 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union


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