Saturday 17 November 2018

Coward or king? Divisive Danny Cipriani has point to prove at Thomond Park

Cipriani conundrum: Despite his undoubted talent, Danny Cipriani has amassed just 18 caps in over 10 years. Photo: Sportsfile
Cipriani conundrum: Despite his undoubted talent, Danny Cipriani has amassed just 18 caps in over 10 years. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

More than 10 years have passed since the day Danny Cipriani made his first start for England and gleefully drove a series of nails into the coffin of Eddie O'Sullivan's tenure as Ireland coach.

Yesterday, a different Eddie appeared to suggest that the out-half might be advised to prepare some arrangements for his own international career as the current England coach Jones left him out of the squad for the November internationals despite him being the incumbent No 10.

The decade in between has been eventful, but it has not been the roaring success that looked at Cipriani's finger-tips on that March day at Twickenham.

His playing ability has never been in question, but the return of just 18 caps speaks for itself.

International appearances may have been in short supply, but column inches have been plentiful.

Brushes

The now Gloucester out-half has had brushes with the law, scraps with team-mates, run-ins with coaches and celebrity squeezes over the course of a career that has taken him to Australia and back.

Like Stuart Lancaster before him, Jones has faced a clamour to include Cipriani in his England plans and for most of his time in charge he resisted.

In June, he turned to the 30-year-old for the final Test in South Africa and when they beat the Springboks to finish a poor tour on a positive note, many assumed the Australian had been convinced.

Throughout the entirety of his career, however, Cirpiani has been unable to help himself and he somehow managed to dirty his bib once more on a team night out on the island of Jersey in August.

The player was fined £2,000 after pleading guilty to resisting arrest and common assault. A female police officer suffered bruising to her neck in the incident.

The timing was terrible and while Gloucester have stood by their man, Jones appears to have moved on.

Yesterday, he reiterated his assertion that Cipriani is his third-choice option behind George Ford and Owen Farrell; something many keen watchers of the Premiership cannot get their heads around.

Indeed, the timing of the player receiving that competition's Player of the Month award could not have come at a worse time for the under-fire head coach who was roundly criticised for opting to omit the star.

On Saturday, he'll come to Limerick with a point to prove.

No doubt, the Thomond Park faithful will have a special welcome ready.

It is fair to say that on this side of the Irish Sea, Cipriani is viewed in different terms than he is in his homeland.

Former Ireland star Luke Fitzgerald caused a major stir across the water when he stated his opinion that the out-half can be something of a "coward" when defending, while assessing his unfulfilled potential as something of a "sad case".

The comments, made on independent.ie's The Left Wing, were reported in the English media and Fitzgerald has apologised for some of the wording involved; but it would be no surprise to hear that his honest assessment is shared within dressing-rooms.

"It was poor wording," Fitzgerald clarified. "But the point stands, what I was trying to say is that he is a poor defender.

"It's a bit of an attitude thing with him, because he's a good athlete. He's strong, quick but I've seen him back-track away from tackles. I never liked playing with players like that and I know other players don't. That was the point I was trying to make. I'd never pick him ahead of Farrell or Ford on that basis.

"He's a divisive enough character, I'm always disappointed. I played against him a few times and if you ask anyone that played against him he was dazzling in his pomp, lovely hands, really difficult to defend against.

"I always felt he was naturally a super fit for England to slot into the void left by Jonny Wilkinson and they obviously thought that as well. It's disappointing."

Two performances against Irish opposition come to mind when assessing Cipriani's impact.

The first was his woeful display when playing for Wasps against Leinster in the 2017 Champions Cup quarter-final in Dublin.

The Irish province clearly targeted the opposition No 10 as a weakness and when they asked him questions he didn't want to know.

The second was his performance at the AJ Bell Stadium when Munster rescued a win with a late Ian Keatley drop goal in 2014, a match Sale were well on course to win until their backline leader started making bad decisions.

Still, there are many within the game willing to stake their reputation on a player who seems like he has been around forever but, at 30, has plenty of rugby left in him.

He may come with baggage but he possesses a rare capacity to unlock defences with his passing and running game, while his goal-kicking is reliable.

Cipriani has been written up and written off so many times, it must be water off a duck's back at this stage; the Thomond welcome will be nothing new either for a man who has lived his entire sporting life in the spotlight.

Irish Independent

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