Armitage and Cipriani latest to be put on naughty step

Full-back banned for punching and stand-off stood down by Rebels after staying out late
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The Independent Online

Two of English rugby's more troublesome individuals – the London Irish full-back Delon Armitage and the former Wasps outside-half Danny Cipriani – found themselves on the naughty step once again yesterday as the union game's reputation, comprehensively battered after recent incidents involving big-name international players, suffered another bruising. Armitage will miss the rest of the season after pleading guilty to punching during a Premiership match late last month while Cipriani was dropped by his current team, the Australian Super 15 outfit Melbourne Rebels, for living up to the side's name.

Armitage has had a desperate few months on the behavioural front. He missed the Six Nations Championship after being found guilty of abusing a doping control officer – he aimed 15 "f" and "c" words at the poor fellow in the space of three minutes – and picking up an eight-week suspension. He had not long returned to active duty when he threw a punch at the Northampton stand-off Stephen Myler and was duly cited.

Yesterday, a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel chaired by Jeremy Summers dished out a three-week ban specifically framed to prevent him troubling the authorities again this term. He is off-limits to London Irish for this weekend's important Premiership visit to Leicester – a match on which their participation in next season's Heineken Cup depends – and will also be excluded from all rugby between 24 May and 6 June. This means he is unavailable for England's meeting with the Barbarians at Twickenham on 29 May.

It has been an unfortunate few weeks for England's full-back contingent ahead of this autumn's World Cup in New Zealand. Ben Foden, the Northampton strike-runner who took Armitage's place in the national team towards the end of last season, spent a night in the cells last month on suspicion of causing criminal damage to a London taxi and later accepted a police caution. Both Foden and Armitage are expected to make Martin Johnson's 30-man party for the global gathering, although the latter might have a little persuading to do at the forthcoming training camp.

Cipriani put himself in Johnson's bad books more than a year ago and unless England's entire No 10 population fall victim to the plague, he has no chance of a World Cup call-up. Indeed, he opted for a spell of self-imposed exile in Australia specifically because he could not see his way back into the red-rose reckoning. Unfortunately for him, the move Down Under has been far from trouble-free.

The Rebels management, headed by the 1999 World Cup-winning Wallaby coach Rod Macqueen, fined their "marquee" signing his match fee in March after he was thrown out of a nightclub for helping himself to a bottle of vodka. Cipriani was suitably contrite. "If anything else happens along these lines, I have agreed with the players that I will stand down for a period of time," he said.

Together with his clubmate Richard Kingi, he has indeed been stood down after breaking an agreement not to stay out late after last weekend's defeat by the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney. Cipriani started that game on the bench, having been dropped for missing too many tackles. When the Rebels play the Queensland Reds this weekend, he will be even further away from the starting line-up.

"We have taken this action due to a breach of protocol," explained the Rebels captain, Tim Davidson, who was among the senior players who imposed the punishment. "We are very protective of our standards and we are disappointed that these players put themselves before the team."

While Cipriani is on record as saying he wants to see out his two-year contract in Victoria, the signing of the brilliant Kurtley Beale for next season could put the squeeze on him. He has already been linked with a short-term move to Toulon. If he becomes available on a full-time basis, Bath might be interested in his services.

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