After a tumultuous period Danny Cipriani has started to fulfil the promise he showed at the beginning of his career, with many people calling for his return to the England fold.
When Danny Cipriani first burst onto the scene for London Wasps, he was hailed as England’s brightest star since Jonny Wilkinson. Eye-catching performances against top domestic and European clubs earned him international call ups for England, and Brian Ashton inevitably selected the back for the 2008 Six Nations.
He shone for the Red Rose against Ireland, and was desperately unfortunate not to be rewarded with ‘Man of Match’. The prodigy injected fresh ideas to a clueless England attack. Andy Robinson and Brian Ashton attempted various other fly-half combinations but none seemed to work. Charlie Hodgson was a stellar club player, but erratic for his country. Toby Flood could attack the gain-line as well as Cipriani, however his goal-kicking was average.
His on-field game was impressive, the off-pitch playboy antics affected his focus. Relationships with glamour models (most notably his fling with Kelly Brook), stealing vodkas from nightclubs and starting fights dented numerous coaches’ confidence in Cipriani. Inevitably, the social life began to affect the Londoner’s rugby.
The newly appointed England head coach Martin Johnson publicly stated in 2011 that if Cipriani decided to transfer to the Melbourne Rebels, he would not be selected for the national side. Still in his early twenties, the fly-half knew training and playing in the Southern Hemisphere could develop his game further and that the move to Australia would turn him into a better player.
After a successful one-year period in Melbourne, Cipriani returned to Britain and signed for Sale Sharks. Although there have been a number of off-field incidents that have damaged Cipriani’s image ( being struck by a bus on a night out), the 26-year-old has settled down to a degree. One or two antics reoccurred but Cipriani has matured.
He was signed as Sale’s marquee signing in 2013 and was immediately rushed into the starting line-up. Appearing to struggle at first, the competition with second fly-half Nick McCloud forced Cipriani to put all his focus onto his club rugby. His biggest failure on the pitch had been defending, but this season it has improved tenfold.
For international number 10s, defence is a necessity. The growing intensity of the game requires fly-halfs to involve themselves in a huge chunk of defensive work, something that was unheard of in recent years. His form for Sale this season has been extremely impressive, reminding everyone of his glory days. Cipriani needed some time to settle back into club life. He was rewarded for his efforts by being awarded the Aviva Player of the Month award for March.
It is very likely that Cipriani will line out for England again, with many calling for his return to the international fold. Additionally, the prospect of missing players due to the Aviva Premiership final a week before the First Test plays in Cipriani’s favour.
Current and ex-players alike have backed Cipriani for an England recall. World-class Aussie back James O’ Connor declared “If I was picking the team he would definitely be involved.” The ever vocal ex-Lions and England legend Brian Moore insists Cipriani “has shown that he is able to play at international level, whatever his subsequent travails.”
It is sure to be an exciting summer for all involved in the Cipriani camp.
Dominic Evans, Pundit Arena.