The Curious Case of Danny Cipriani – Part II
It is no prophesy to say that long gone are the days where he can be the next great hope for England Rugby. Tomorrow came and went and, as sometimes happens, it didn’t quite work out as it should have. At least not for him. Other bright young backs have jumped their place in the queue after stellar performances on the weekend: Slade’s eye-catching display should be enough for him whilst, perhaps more pertinently for Cipriani, Alex Goode delivered a highly confident performance at full-back. Having been consigned to foot-note status as a potential back-up fifteen in the eyes of many before the game, Cipriani might now struggle to make the page at all. The re-birth as a player might have come too late.
But yet…he is still back in the fold, if only waiting in the wings. There is still time but, with just two more fixtures and less than two weeks until Lancaster’s final announcement, not a lot of it. He needs to play on Saturday if he is to remain a realistic prospect for selection and, when he comes off the bench at fullback or at ten, he must seize the opportunity to showcase his undoubted talents: accelerating into gaps and pinging the corners with his giant left peg. If he gets his shot in Paris, he is also going to need to wear iron shoulders and silence the argument that weak tackling is a continuing chink in his armour. A great game this weekend puts him back into the discussion…but he will likely still be seen as a gamble. This raises another significant question.
Does Lancaster want to roll the dice? When Australia were losing the first Lions test in 2013, they moved Curtley Beale from fullback to fly-half with twenty minutes to go. The alarm bells could be heard ringing loud and clear in the Lions war room: ‘get a message down, get a message down, he’ll run it from anywhere, he’ll run it from anywhere’ cried the usually reserved coaching staff. As it was he did, playing the role of the eager understudy who adlibs anything to bring a standing ovation from his crowd. Pragmatists will say that Australia didn’t win, and so the gamble didn’t pay off…I would say that, but for that slip on his last gasp penalty kick, it was still a vindicated decision. In the end his introduction didn’t rewrite the series, but by having him in their set-up the wallabies knew that they had a tool capable of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. It takes knowledge to have that kind of player involved in your squad, but it takes wisdom to know when to unleash the maverick.
Cipriani can play that role for England. If not from the starting XV, then from the bench. Are you going to bring him on to see out a war of attrition that you are shading by a couple of points? Probably not. Could he be set loose at ten upon a defence when a game is slipping away? Absolutely.
Cipriani will probably not be selected for the world cup squad. Even where this article has placed a distinction between the player and the news that surrounds him, his achievements on the pitch and his alleged decisions away from it, the thought process for a coach cannot be so unreservedly black and white. What’s more is that other players have simply put their hands up with great performances and perhaps earned the opportunity to write their own stories.
If he did go, he may only get played for fifteen minutes all tournament…but what a decisive quarter of an hour it could be.