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England axes Cipriani

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Sportal.co.nz     26 Nov 2008     Gettys Images

Cipriani has paid the price for his role in England's crushing 42-6 defeat to South Africa, dropping to the bench with Toby Flood taking over at No.10.

England manager Martin Johnson has made two further changes, with Michael Lipman replacing Tom Rees at openside flanker and Nick Kennedy returning to the second row for injured lock Tom Palmer.

Cipriani struggled in the defeat to Australia and then endured a wretched afternoon against the Springboks, having a kick charged down for a try for the third time in six matches.

He was not surprised to be dropped but insisted his confidence had not been dashed by the experiences of the last fortnight.

"If I was coach I would have made the same decision," said Cipriani.

"Against South Africa I didn't make it easy for him to pick me again. It wasn't the greatest and it didn't go to plan.

"Mentally I am fine. I think I have learned a lot and this series has been a vital experience for me. I am not looking at it as a setback.

"We are playing the toughest team in the world and I could be on in the first minute. There is no way I could have a different mindset.

"My confidence won't dip at all. I know what I can do. I need to make sure when I come off the bench I am firing. I might have to make a vital decision so there was no way I could step off."

Cipriani is only seven matches into his comeback from a gruesome ankle break and believes he is still a couple of weeks short of returning to his best form.

His replacement, Flood, has won 21 caps for England but only three times at first five-eighth. His last international start was against the All Blacks on the winter tour.

He had been in prime form for new club Leicester before the international window and Johnson said: "He deserves his go.

"Danny has got a big future but so does Toby. He is an international class fly-half."

The decision to replace Rees with Lipman was a surprise given the Wasps flanker has been one of England's outstanding players in a demanding campaign.

Johnson explained he wanted to give Lipman a start and the added leadership experience the Bath captain brings will be vital against a ruthless All Blacks side attempting to complete an historic third Grand Slam tour.

Captain Steve Borthwick has been heavily criticised in some quarters but Johnson issued a resounding defence of his skipper.

"The criticism of Steve has been ridiculous and it is something people have got on the bandwagon with. His captaincy has been outstanding, on and off the field," Johnson added.

Borthwick will pack down with Kennedy, who started against the Pacific Islanders but did not feature against Australia or South Africa.

The London Irish lineout expert replaces Palmer, who has a calf injury, while Simon Shaw has dropped out of the match 22 as Johnson altered the balance of his bench.

For the first time in the Investec Challenge series England goes into a game with three replacement backs, opening the way for Dan Hipkiss to return on the bench.