For England’s Danny Cipriani, the past is a foreign country that he can’t quite depart from; a brilliantly talented player, he has been permanently pigeonholed as a liability because of his previous misdemeanours.
Despite flourishing at a vibrant Wasps outfit this season, he didn’t even make Eddie Jones’ expanded 45-man EPS squad for this coming international window. So, where exactly does the mercurial talents of Cipriani fit in to Jones’ plans?
Although Saracens’ Owen Farrell and Bath’s George Ford are likely to be fighting it out for the coveted white 10 jersey this November and December, it is Farrell’s understudy, Alex Lozowski, that has been included as a third choice fly-half, although Exeter Chiefs’ Henry Slade has also spent time at 10 this season as well.
Moreover, Eddie Jones’ recent comments in the press suggest Cipriani is unlikely to make the squad any time soon (via The Telegraph):
“We see George Ford and Owen Farrell as one and two. They are the heartbeat of the side. They can organise the team and they are tactically smart. Danny has got to be able to show that he can be number one. He likes to be the main man. And when he plays well enough to be number one, he’ll be in the squad.”
In effect, Cipriani is too big a personality to be on the fringes of selection. He must show he is just as strong a candidate for selection as two players who were instrumental in helping England to win a first Grand Slam in 13 years and a whitewashing of Australia in the summer.
It’s harsh on a player who has done everything possible to show he has changed as an individual since he came to England after a mixed time playing for Melbourne Rebels in the Super Rugby competition. The Danny Cipriani that has emerged from the ashes of a disappointing time in Australia is stoic, pragmatic and determined, with a little help from mentor Steve Black – a man who previously worked with England hero Jonny Wilkinson.
“I’m not thinking about the past,” he told Sport360. “It doesn’t matter. It is what it is and you talk about it, but it’s not bad, it’s life. You learn from all these things and I’m glad it’s happened. Fortunately I’ve not done anything too bad, but it’s made me who I am today. As you get older it’s easier to deal with all that and I have got good mentors and people around me to help.”
Yet despite a clear change in mindset, controversy constantly haunts Cipriani.
Since returning to his home country, Cipriani was run over by a bus after a pub crawl in Leeds and earlier this year found guilty of drink driving.
Now a move to Wasps means the English playmaker has come full circle: back at the club where he first made his name as both one of the best young players in the country and a blossoming international talent.
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Cipriani may be moving on from his troubled past, but one moment will always particular jar for many England fans.
One has to think back to May 2008 when Cipriani suffered a career-threatening ankle injury. He made it back in time for England’s internationals later in the year. However, in many ways it could be argued that he was rushed back too soon, that he wasn’t ready to be pivotal to England’s plans that November and December.
The results of 28-14 and 42-6 humblings against Australia and South Africa are evidence of this, but Cipriani’s demotion to the bench with Toby Flood moving to fly-half for the 32-6 loss to the All Blacks was the beginning of the rot.
Then England manager Martin Johnson never trusted Cipriani with the 10 shirt again, and after his time Down Under with the aptly-monikered ‘Rebels’ , Cipriani found that Stuart Lancaster wasn’t a huge fan either. This was probably no great surprise given the Cumbrian’s dedication to promoting a squad with a moral compass, a devotion to core values and crystal clear integrity.
But then to go to Sale Sharks, a club that has not tasted any trophy success since 2006, said a lot about a changing Cipriani. As a player he was rebuilding at a club that itself was in a state of transition. At the time the pair worked well together, but don’t be fooled into thinking Cipriani’s move to Wasps is motivated by money.
With the squad the Coventry-based team have, Wasps have a real chance of winning both the Premiership and the Champions Cup this year, and that kind of success could finally put the troubled player back into the England shop window.
Does England’s most naturally gifted attacking player deserve to be continually ignored at the expense of others? Many would say not, but after a lot of pain, misery and disappointment in a career that has so far failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him in his early days, Cipriani knows he must keep striving to be better, to continue to learn and to grow.
At just 28 Cipriani still has a chance to turn himself into England’s number one first five-eighth and get himself on the plane to Japan for 2019. England’s time-torn man can still make the future his own.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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