The Curious Case of Danny Cipriani – Part I
Never has the timing of a rugby opinion been so out of kilter with conventional wisdom on every level. I write this from the attic room of my parent’s house, a space so hostile to Wi-Fi that the last rays to dare the stairwell were floored more brutally than Jules Plisson on a crisp Twickenham afternoon. They haven’t returned in about ten days, so no researched stats or evidence can answer the questions that are keeping me awake. Nor does Saturday’s intriguing 19-14 victory over France quite justify the thought that is clinging like a burr in the dark corners of my brain. Whilst the weekend’s game illustrated lacking depth in some positional areas, there were others where the measuring stick sunk irretrievably in England’s deep talent pool: Goode, Farrell and Slade reaffirmed that they are sublime ball players…men few would have picked to figure in the foreground of England’s campaign a week ago. But to begin this undercooked yet complex tale, we need to go back more than a week.
The year is 2008, and rising star Danny Cipriani has been called into the side to face Scotland in the Six Nations. People are talking. Two days before the match he is axed after being spotted in a night club…people are still talking, but the nature of the conversation is very different. He gets another opportunity against Ireland, where controversy continues to rein as Jonny Wilkinson is deemed worthy only of a place on the bench…few remain narked about the golden boy’s omission after Cipriani delivers a brilliantly executed performance. Two days before the match he is axed after being spotted in a night club…people are still talking, but the nature of the conversation is very different.Months later he shatters his ankle and can’t rediscover the Midas touch upon an England return in the autumn, whilst a mixed season at Wasps opens the floodgates to more doubts over his suitability as an international prospect. Like a renegade from a Kerouac novel he seeks adventure away from his homeland, washing up in Melbourne at the doors of the aptly named Rebels. He twinkles in patches but is also fined after stealing a bottle of vodka from behind a bar. But of course you know all about this. We all do. It has been well documented alongside various other alleged tabloid-worthy incidents: on-camera swears, a high profile romance, threats of an exodus to football and spark outs with teammates to name a few. This is the story we know. The devil we know.
The devil we don’t came home in 2012, and has been playing to half-empty stadiums in Stockport ever since: if not out of sight, at least out of mind for the tabloids. A good thing, fans of his electric rugby-playing talent agreed. His due diligence brought rewards. Reintegrated into the England squad that embarked on a thrilling tour to New Zealand last summer, he made contributions from the bench and put his name back into the frame where others were absent (after the baffling decision to schedule the tour alongside the Premiership and Heineken Cup finals). The conversation became one of a wonderful rugby player again.
But after being selected in Stuart Lancaster’s provisional fifty-man World Cup Squad this summer, Cipriani’s name once again made front page headlines for the wrong reasons; an arrest under suspicion of drunk driving threatened to remove him from the position that good work on the rugby pitch had re-established. Cipriani’s name once again made front page headlines for the wrong reasons In the end the RFU have seen fit to keep him in the fold until the pending police investigation delivers a verdict. Some have agreed, some have disagreed, but the decision has been made. Whether you can ever fully separate a player’s off-field actions from what happens when they cross the whitewash remains a hot topic, and of course circumstances will always be so different case by case, player by player, that it’s not really for me to comment either way.
What I do want to work out is whether Cipriani is a justifiable selection for Lancaster’s final squad based purely on his abilities as a rugby player, and not the circumstances surrounding his private life.
Put simply…is he good enough and should he go?
The second part of The Curious Case of Danny Cipriani will be published later this week. In the meantime let us know what you think in the comments below or on twitter @RuckThis