Can Danny Cipriani ever come in from the cold? - Club Rugby - Rugby Union - The Independent

Can Danny Cipriani ever come in from the cold?

No 10 wasn't even in Sale's last squad so poor has his defence been. On Friday night, he starts against Worcester but will he take his latest chance, asks Simon Turnbull

We have been here before, have we not? A sublime sporting talent wasting away on the west side of Manchester.

At least George Best got his glory days in first, winning the European Cup with United and the Ballon d'Or, the European footballer of the year trophy, before frittering away his brilliance in his mid-twenties. At 25, Danny Cipriani's world-beating talents have been in suspension for four years now.

It was on 29 November 2008 that Cipriani won his last cap for England, as a 74th-minute replacement for Jamie Noon in a 32-6 defeat against the All Blacks at Twickenham. Five weeks away from the start of the 2013 Six Nations Championship, the once princely fly-half is about as far from a recall to the national No 10 shirt as he has ever been since Martin Johnson deemed him surplus to requirements in the summer of 2009.

Last Sunday, Cipriani was not even deemed worthy of a return to face his former club. With Sale desperate to pick up pre-Christmas points against Wasps at Adams Park, John Mitchell – the hard-bitten Kiwi brought in by chief executive Steve Diamond to give the Sharks some teeth – left the one-time wunderkind of English rugby out in the cold completely, out of his match-day 23.

Tomorrow night, in the wake of that 25-18 defeat, Cipriani returns to not just the fold but the pivotal position for the club five points adrift at the foot of the Premiership table. He does so, replacing the injured Nick Macleod for the visit of Worcester Warriors to the City of Salford Stadium, with a point to prove, not to mention a career to rebuild.

Ever since his return to England last summer, following his two years in exile with the Melbourne Rebels, Cipriani has struggled to nail down the No 10 shirt at Sale. A man-of-the-match performance off the bench in a 34-33 home win against Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup in mid-October might have been a launch pad. Even then, though, Bryan Redpath, who started the season in charge of team affairs as Sale's director of rugby, pointed to the lingering shortcomings in the all-round game of his marquee summer signing.

"Danny's attacking flair has never been in question," said the former Scotland scrum-half, now head coach following Mitchell's arrival last month. "For me, there are two other elements to his game – controlling field position and making his tackles – both of which he did well today. It's great to see Danny perform like that. It opens the door for some consistent performances."

But consistency has been a quality consistently lacking in Cipriani's play since the highs of his early senior days – starring in a Heineken Cup final win for Wasps as a teenager in 2007 and sparkling on his first start for his country, against Ireland at Twickenham in the Six Nations, the following spring.

When it came to testing himself away to Toulon in the Heineken Cup two weeks ago, Cipriani's game crumbled as Sale slumped to a 62-0 defeat, their heaviest thumping in the continent's premier club competition.

Mitchell was not impressed. A no-nonsense No 8 with Sale in his playing days, and subsequently the club's director of rugby before moving on to Clive Woodward's England back-room staff and becoming head coach of the All Blacks, the 48-year-old New Zealander did not mince his words in dropping Cipriani for the trip to High Wycombe.

"If you can't defend, there's no place for you in Premiership rugby," Mitchell said. "All I've asked for him to do is defend. Last week his defence was good at times until he chose to be an individual. You have to serve your team-mates before yourself. If he shifts in that area he comes back into contention like everyone else.

"He took it [being dropped] like a good man. It wasn't a shock to him because two weeks before I had set out some criteria for him to meet. Obviously, there was a contrast between his two performances and I didn't like the second."

Neither did Brian Kennedy. Sale's joint-owner made his displeasure public, saying: "Danny had a dreadful game in defence last week. And if you're not prepared to put your body on the line for this club, who pay your wages and give you the chance to play at the highest level each week, then you won't be in the squad, will you?"

It was not a question Kennedy was expecting to be asking when he pinned his faith and his money to Cipriani to inspire Sale to become a flagship northern super club in their new home and under the new direction of Redpath, who was lured from Gloucester in the summer. All parties in the project appear to be at a crossroads.

With just one win in 11 matches, Sale are in danger of losing their top-flight status. With Mitchell on the scene in a "consultancy" role, Redpath has already suffered a demotion. And Cipriani is in peril of suffering the same fate as Best: leaving his huge talent largely unfulfilled and missing the biggest showcase of them all.

Northern Ireland were never strong enough to qualify for a football World Cup in Best's international days and, having been out of the frame for the 2011 rugby union equivalent, Cipriani is a long way from the England picture three and a half years or so out from the 2015 tournament on home soil.

He has, seemingly at least, curbed the playboy lifestyle that delayed his England debut under Brian Ashton and ultimately alienated Johnson. He has, though, yet to gain the cussed defensive qualities that have helped to keep Jonny Wilkinson on the international radar for so long and that have put Owen Farrell at the head of the current queue of contenders for the England fly-half position.

As a role model, he could do worse than look across at his opposite number at kick-off time tomorrow night. At 32, Andy Goode is still going strong in the Premiership. He was never the best of English No 10s but made the most of the gifts at his disposal. The old Worcester warrior has 17 caps to his name, 10 more than the allegedly toothless Sale Shark.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week