Infrequently, in all walks of life, individuals break the mould that had been set before them. Sport is no different; rare mercurial talents, often maligned and adored in equal measure, serve a higher purpose than only themselves.
They come along and shake up the status quo, leaving their colleagues and fans sometimes delighted, occasionally depressed and often unsure of what came before.
Danny Cipriani fits this description better than most: swagger on the field match only by his apparent swagger off it; a string of front-page tabloid antics to accompany back-page headlines, all set distinctly aside from his undeniable rugby talents.
It was announced this week that Cipriani will be leaving Wasps at the end of the season, with many suspecting he will ply his trade in the cash-rich havens of France or Japan.
Cipriani noted he’ll be “sad to leave Wasps, but my job is far from finished.”
A talented footballer, cricketer and squash player at school, Cipriani made his Wasps debut in 2004 and went on to play 96 times before seasons at the Melbourne Rebels and Sale Sharks.
He also has managed 14 appearances for England, including an eye-catching performance against Ireland in the 2008 6 Nations where he was described as “England’s new hero.”
He returned to his boyhood club in 2016 and helped Wasps reached last year’s Aviva Premiership final.
And yet discussion of this impressive CV seems to consistently allude rugby fans and commentators.
His talent is abundantly clear; exploiting gaps himself or via impressive distribution from hand or foot, he makes many other fly-halves appear rigid and mechanical.
This mercurial flair is not always celebrated, however; discussions of his ‘baggage’ and temperament followed him at every club move, missed selection or impressive performance.
His rap sheet is undoubtedly longer than most of his peers; hit by a bus in 2013 while on a pub crawl, fined for supposedly stealing a bottle of vodka from a Melbourne bar, and an 18-month driving ban after being found guilty of drink-driving. Perhaps his personal life, through many high-profile relationships plastered across the tabloids, leads rugby fans and selectors to question his commitment to maintaining the highest of professional standards.
Impressive, more mature performances over the last few years have not warranted a recent England call-up (his last was in 2015) and, with his destination next season most likely abroad, he seems to have accepted his international career is over.
This is disheartening to see – a player of his talents should have more than 14 appearances for his country.
Quade Cooper, the similarly capricious Australian fly-half whose future is also uncertain, has amassed 70 caps for the Wallabies. One can only assume Cipriani’s off-field issues colour selector’s judgement of him – but should they?
James Haskell, Cipriani’s Wasps teammate who is also leaving at the end of the season, has been criticised for building a branded image of himself that will be marketable during, and after, his rugby career.
Yet his talent and relentless work ethic overshadow this and have extended his international career far beyond Cipriani’s.
As the sun sets on Cipriani’s second English rugby crusade, perhaps his talents will be more greatly appreciated overseas, away from the blinding glare of the British media.
For all those who know Cipriani for antics away from the pitch, there should deservedly be an equal number who respect a verve and panache not normally found within the humble British fly-half.
Charlie Morgan, Pundit Arena