Smith not focused on Cipriani

Salisbury Journal: Danny Cipriani could soon be back in the England set-up Danny Cipriani could soon be back in the England set-up

Danny Cipriani might reignite his England chances, but Brian Smith has warned London Irish not to let Sale's livewire playmaker control Friday's Aviva Premiership clash.

England's forgotten fly-half has been catapulted back into the international reckoning by a Premiership injury glut that will leave Stuart Lancaster short-handed for the Six Nations.

Former Wasps outside-half Cipriani's England career went off the rails thanks to a complete relationship breakdown with Martin Johnson and a nasty ankle fracture-dislocation.

The last of Cipriani's seven caps came in 2008, since when he has fought back from that injury, toyed with a career switch to football, joined Melbourne Rebels, returned to Sale Sharks and then been hit by a bus on a night out in Leeds.

Former England attack coach Smith knows first-hand both Cipriani's brilliance and fallibility.

Refusing to wade into the England debate, Smith will set up his Irish side to combat Cipriani's tactical kicking at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday.

But he said beyond that there will be no special attention, challenging his versatile backs to cause problems for the home fly-half instead.

"We've got some very talented ball players at our club as well," Smith told Press Association Sport.

"Danny is a big talent, there's no doubt about that.

"But we've got some great talent as well in our backline.

"Ian Humphreys, James O'Connor, Shane Geraghty: there's a lot of playing ability and finesse there.

"So he's a good player but we won't be focusing on him as much as focusing on how we impose ourselves on them.

"We certainly need to have our defensive plan together, but we can shut down his options and certainly our backfield will be set up to cover his kicking game.

"But as I say in your preparation, part of it's about looking at opposition threats, but it's also about looking at the opportunities you see in the fixture and making sure you capitalise on those."

World Cup-winning Springboks prop CJ Van der Linde will make his debut for Irish at Sale, with front-rower Eifion Lewis-Roberts primed for his 100th Premiership appearance for the hosts.

Smith is confident scrum cornerstone Van der Linde will help shift general perceptions of the Exiles' pack.

He said: "We've got some artillery there that we've been holding back for the last two weeks, with good reason.

"These next three league games are massive for us, and I think we're a good enough rugby team to win all three.

"But we've definitely got to step up to the plate.

"If we execute the gameplan then we can put in a big performance and get the result."

Third-placed Bath host Harlequins on Saturday, with the men from The Stoop currently sat fourth in the table.

Exeter Chiefs will be hoping to see off Newcastle Falcons at Sandy Park, to try to climb higher than sixth, while second-placed Wasps travel to Northampton.

Leaders Saracens host fifth-placed Leicester, before strugglers Gloucester and Worcester slug it out at Kingsholm on Sunday.

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