Wednesday 21 February 2018

Cipriani: I will not blow my chance with England again

Danny Cipriani scores a try for England against Italy. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Danny Cipriani scores a try for England against Italy. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Mick Cleary

Danny Cipriani, the prodigal son of English rugby, has pledged never to be an outcast again after scoring a try in the first minute of his first Six Nations appearance in seven years, making a note in his daily journal of the warmth of the response from the Twickenham crowd on Saturday.

The Sale fly-half made all the right gestures off the field, just as he did for the most part on it after replacing George Ford with 18 minutes remaining against Italy. It was a moment that Cipriani had yearned for, his first championship outing since 2008. A long-term injury to Owen Farrell has given him his opening and Cipriani is determined not to waste it.

"There is no way I ever want to be out of this England side ever again for as long as I am playing," Cipriani said. "I probably took it for granted (before). At the time I didn't say I took it for granted but you don't really appreciate the moments as they come along.

"That is what I am doing now. At least I can sort of breathe a bit now because I got on to the field on Saturday. It was one of the highlights of my career to get back out there.

"Every moment and every experience I am appreciating. I am very focused on making the best of my ability.

"Everyone is aiming to get to that No 1 spot. Everyone wants to be putting their hand up, so it is important I don't step off the mark one bit."

The 27-year-old has managed that, impressing with his humble demeanour and on-field performance.

There were a couple of glitches, a missed conversion and an over-hit kick, but there was a real frisson in the crowd as he spotted the possibilities just a few moments after coming on. He hared to the left to link with wing Jonny May, then held his support line to take the inside pass.

Lancaster will have taken note, as he would of Cipriani's muted reaction.

Cipriani has grown up. He acknowledges that, admitting that his younger self would have turned down the offer of working with Jonny Wilkinson's mentor, Steve Black, part mind-coach, part guru, part conditioner, part no-nonsense Geordie.

Precious talent often thinks that it has life cracked, that great things can be achieved on instinct alone and that there is nothing much wrong with rampant ego. Cipriani found that there was, and others, such as former England manager Martin Johnson, had little time for him.

Black has had a profound influence on Cipriani, on his lifestyle, on his thinking and on his preparation. The fact that Cipriani had spent his time on the England bench on Saturday running through all sorts of scenarios prior to coming on meant that he was ready for what did come to pass.

Visualisation is big in Black's world, as is the need to note down everything in a daily journal. The pair speak every day and were in contact on Saturday morning.

"Blackie reminds me to be the energy, to be someone who has confidence," said Cipriani, who dedicated the try that he scored to the memory of a close family friend at whose bedside he was when he passed away before Christmas.

"I have learned a lot in the last seven years. I feel I am in a much wiser position and more stable in that way. I am only 27 so a good three or four years off my peak.

"It does feel like I have been away a while but to get the reception I did was very humbling. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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