Cipriani seeks new challenge with Melbourne Rebels

By Rhys Hayward
Danny Cipriani

Danny Cipriani (Photo: Chris Brown)

Danny Cipriani will turn his back on the Guinness Premiership at the end of this season by joining new Australian Super 15 outfit Melbourne Rebels.

The 22-year-old’s decision, which effectively extends his absence from Martin Johnson’s senior squad indefinitely, will upset many fans who laud Cipriani as arguably England’s most talented player for a generation.

But since making his debut for the senior team in 2008, the Wasps player has failed to settle on the international scene. There have been some spectacular moments such as his first international start in the 33-10 win over Ireland in 2008 but the presence of Johnny Wilkinson, combined with injury setbacks and off the field incidents have restricted his progress.

Cipriani is a lone maverick in the bastion of pragmatism that is English rugby and as a consequence he has been largely marginalised.

Whereas in France or Wales Cipriani’s cocksureness and mercurial nature might be applauded, the national team, particularly since Johnson took over, have preferred the steadying hand of Wilkinson and others such as Toby Flood to Cipriani.

Ostensibly, Johnson has continued to nurture his most precocious talent by including him in the England Saxons squad, but the feeling that Cipriani is considered a liability by the World Cup winning captain is difficult to shake.

Admittedly, even Cipriani’s biggest fan would struggle to construct a watertight argument for his immediate reinstatement to the no.10 jersey but with Wilkinson looking increasingly wobbly at the highest level and the likes of Toby Flood and Shane Geraghty as backup, what use is Cipriani in Australia?

Brian Moore, the pugnacious BBC commentator however, believes that some time away from the limelight in the UK may be just the move Cipriani needs to reignite his career. Cipriani’s relationship with the model Kelly Brooke has been well publicised and Moore argues that part of the problem with his failure to blossom has been the construction of his image as a “fashion-celebrity fashion vehicle.”

Perhaps understandably, the rugby community — still entrenched in the amateur mentality — tends to frown upon players who are perceived to seek stardom in a manner which would be entirely natural in sports such as football and Cipriani has suffered because of this.

But Moore is hopeful that both the player and his country will benefit from being away from the media glare with the premise that he matures both as a man and as a rugby player.

Certainly, Cipriani is young enough for this decision to one day be heralded as the move that made him a great but equally it could be the beginning of the end. Two successful years down under might convince Cipriani to close the door on those who once turned him away.

For England, he may become the perennial unfulfilled talent and that is surely a crime.

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