Bosh! How rugby's pin-up ended up in a ruck

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The Independent Online

Danny Cipriani and Josh Lewsey are two of England's biggest rugby stars and play for the same club, London Wasps. The similarities end there.

Cipriani is what once seemed unthinkable; a cool rugby player. The 20-year-old has become a darling of the paparazzi and the scourge of the rugby establishment. In recent weeks he has graced as many gossip columns as sports pages and been snapped stepping from style bars to swanky restaurants with his girlfriend, the model, Kelly Brook. Lewsey, 31, is a World Cup winner and graduate of Sandhurst.

But this week, these very different faces of rugby collided. And rather than hitting London's West End on Tuesday night, Cipriani was nursing cuts on his face. Just hours earlier he had finished a training drill flat on his face.

Trading blows with Lewsey after a routine session got overheated, Cipriani was flattened by a right hook that left him with cuts to his nose and lip. Lewsey is said to have responded angrily to a series of missed tackles.

Yesterday morning the pair were both engaged in a full-on training session with no visible signs of disharmony. The management at Wasps were quick to point out that such exchanges are routine affairs in rugby, and tension has been growing at all clubs as the Heineken Cup approaches. But there might be other reasons for discord between Cipriani and his team-mates. Despite being praised by coaches for his work ethic, Cipriani's private life has been a source of tension.

The Independent has learned that two other England internationals based at Wasps, Tom Voyce and Paul Sackey, playfully re-enacted the scene for the benefit of their team-mates after this morning's session. Voyce and Sackey donned amateur boxing head gear and cushions often used for training purposes.

Inevitably, there is a risk that many older players could feel they're being usurped by the young star with an engrossing life story. Raised in Putney by a single mother who drove taxis, Cipriani won scholarships to first the Oratory School near Reading and then Whitgift School in Croydon. There his precocious talent quickly earned admirers, with a plethora of caps at under-16 and under-19 level, coming after he played junior football at QPR and turned down a cricket career with Surrey.

His antics off the pitch have always aroused as much attention as those on it, however. At the age of 16 he auditioned for the role of topless dancer on the MTV show My Sweet 16 but was rejected as too skinny. Over the past year he has been spotted canoodling with one of the Cheeky Girls, Monica Irimia, and been on a date with a model who was allegedly born a man.

Cipriani's full England debut, meanwhile, was delayed after he was seen in a nightclub in the early hours of the morning before the game. Claims that he only popped in for a few minutes cut no ice.

All of which couldn't be further from the old school rugger tradition which Lewsey inhabits. A World Cup hero, the boy from Bromley, Kent, joined the army corps at Sandhurst after graduating from Bristol University, before starting his rugby career full time.

An alumnus of Watford Grammar School, the chiselled, strait-laced Lewsey gave some insight into the legacy left at Wasps by the former skipper Lawrence Dallaglio in this month's edition of Rugby World magazine.

"He's left his own characteristics here – dynamic, challenging, narky, uncompromising," Lewsey says. "This isn't always a comfortable place to work in. Everyone's on each other's backs and there is a brutal honesty, but this is why we win silverware".

Rather than condemn the bust-up between his charges, Wasps' director of rugby, Ian McGeechan, said: "What's new? It happens every week here. I'm actually quite pleased."

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