How Danny can be Champion of the World…Cup
Whatever your opinion of his chequered past, anyone sitting in the relatively full stands at Twickenham this past weekend could not have failed to be impressed by the game that Danny Cipriani had. To say he merely kicked well would be an insult. The Sale Sharks fly-half ran the show from start to finish, even ending up at full-back to show off his evident versatility.
Along with the Man of the Match award, he also contributed 33 points (a record in the fixture) to England’s 73-12 demolition job of the Barbarians. 11 kicks from 11 and two tries. In a game that was hailed as his chance to impress the country’s head coach, Stuart Lancaster, he could not have done much more.
Lancaster was careful in his praise of the 27-year-old after the match. “Danny was good,” he said. “He played a lot at full-back four or five years ago, (…) but it is a pretty competitive position fly-half, as is full-back.”
It was only last summer that Cipriani ended a long England exile, his temper and youth getting the best of him on too many occasions to sanction. From the training ground clash with Josh Lewsey in 2008, to the nightclub visits before his proposed debut and 2013’s collision with a bus after a Leeds pub crawl, it has taken a long time for Danny to grow up. However, it appears as if he might finally have learnt some discipline, that most crucial of international factors.
They say there is a fine line between genius and madness. Cipriani showed throughout this season with Sale that he was capable of genius, and again throughout the England game at Twickenham underlined his vision, quick hands and a quick mind to make the incisive difference time after time. With some very tough opposition in store at this year’s World Cup, the maverick, mercurial talent could be the perfect wild-card, disrupting the Wallaby, Welsh and Fijian game line to great effect. However, it is staying the right side of the mental line that will be the key and requires him keeping a lid on his emotions. No more swearing at referees like back in May, that’s for sure. The greater the reward, the greater the risk.
And Lancaster is not one to put up with ill-discipline. As Dylan Hartley has finally found out, enough is enough. Despite being by far the most experienced hooker and player in the England squad, he has been dropped from the World Cup team for his latest infraction; a senseless head-butt on Jamie George in the Premiership semi-finals. He will be lucky to ever play for England again, such is the quality waiting to take his place. He joins Manu Tuilagi on the international scrapheap after his assault of two policewomen. Even Quade Cooper, a similarly talented fly-half and crucial to his country, was binned by Australia for a while after behaving idiotically. The issue of keeping your emotions in check is a worldwide one, no one is bigger than the team.
One final quote from the England coach: “He (Danny) has learned a lot about discipline from Sale this year, so he has been a lot more controlled and composed in games.” A subtle warning, showing that Lancaster has not forgotten the folly of youth. If you end up like Hartley, the likes of George Ford and Owen Farrell will continue to be ahead in the pecking order. Keep your head, Danny, keep control and you’ll be right in the mix.