In 2008, 20-year-old Danny Cipriani was English rugby’s prodigal son; his flamboyant attacking style, focusing predominantly on his ball in hand game, offered what was a revolutionary option in the fly half department to Brian Ashton and his coaching staff leading up to that years Six Nations. Cipriani possessed god given talent at that early stage in his career, but with the world at his feet was never able to make the transition into a world star, but why?
I’d say it was for two reasons, with the latter being more prominent: injuries and his adolescent mindset in pursuing fame and fortune over playing rugby.
Cipriani has appeared in the news in recent years more times about his extracurricular wrongdoings than for his positive impact on the sport, even as recently as this week where he is on trial for drink driving offences. These misdemeanour’s have proved to be a common theme throughout his career with such damaging consequences.
The broken ankle that he suffered in May 2008, and his growing passion for the ‘social’ side of rugby, proved to be the catalysts that saw the young star spiral out of favour with Wasps and England in 2010; having seemingly fallen out of love with English rugby, he sought solace in Australia with the newly formed Melbourne Rebels that brought about, in my opinion, the worst two years of his professional career.
Outlandish behavior saw Cipriani relentlessly sanctioned and banned during his two seasons, evidenced by the fact he only managed 19 appearances for the Rebels, which left pundits fearing the worst for his career in the sport; his appearances were often criticised, particularly for his defensive impact as well as his tactical deficiencies, and by the end of the 2011/12 season he had reached the lowest point of his career.
Luck, however, would prove to be on his side. Cue the interjection of Sale Sharks who offered him a solid base to regain his form when they signed him for the 2012/13 season. Cipriani’s start to his Sharks career, with four tries in the first four matches of the LV=Cup, proved to be indicative of the way it would unfold. The scintillating and composed displays regularly on show, however, never had a definitive impact on his International opportunities, often losing out to Owen Farrell and George Ford for England’s number ten jersey. The performances were there but Sale’s status as one of England’s top clubs simply wasn’t.
Sale have been fantastic for Cipriani over the last four seasons and he owes them endless gratitude, but when you’ve reached your potential at a club the only direction is up. If you examined the team there’s no doubt, despite the presence of key elements and players at the core of their rejuvenation, Cipriani has been at the forefront of everything positive. The leadership he has displayed, combined with his newly found tactical game, has guided a well-drilled side back into the top half of English rugby. What became glaringly apparent this season, however, was the fact Danny Cipriani wasn’t going to fulfil his International desires staying with Sale.
Coincidence or not, within a month of finding out he wasn’t included in the Six Nations squad for this year he announced he’d be returning to Wasps at the end of the season. Cipriani will be returning to where it all began for him as a teenager, to a club that, similarly to Cipriani, have elevated themselves over the past four years to a level that now sees them toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite.
This opportunity, to be playing top-level rugby again and realistically challenging for silverware, is exactly what Cipriani needed. Owen Farrell has arguably cemented his spot as England’s future fly half, but with the likes of George Ford really struggling for form, this move to Wasps has offered an opening into the International set up that he needs to grasp with both hands. I look at the way Cipriani plays and I am adamant that he’s England’s best attacking fly half and would offer the perfect alternative to the conservative style of Owen Farrell. Eddie Jones made it clear this week that Cipriani will be assessed on his rugby alone, an incentive that I hope motivates him to focus on his rugby and reaching the potential he once had the English rugby community salivating over.
The proof will quite literally be in the pudding of next season, and I am already excited to see him don the black and white shirt again, but being the far more rounded professional he is these days he knows his role with Sale isn’t over until the season is finished; Cipriani should have one eye on the tour of Australia coming up in June and who knows, helping Sale to a top four finish could see him make the squad. To put it plainly Cipriani’s career has been a series of setbacks, most of which can be attributed to himself, but following his revival with Sale and with Wasps on the horizon there is still plenty the 28-year-old has to offer English rugby. The key for him will be to keep out of the media spot light and really concentrate on showing the world those early days are behind him and he’s here to just play rugby.