Tearful Cipriani makes early Melbourne exit
Danny Cipriani wept when he informed his Super 15 clubmates in Melbourne that he would be leaving town ahead of schedule and returning to England to start preparing for the resurrection of his international career.
How the prodigal outside-half must be hoping that his relationship with Sale, not obviously an oasis of calm for troubled souls, does not end in tears before next season is out.
The 24-year-old Londoner left Wasps in 2010 in search of some exile therapy in Australia, which was just about as far away from Martin Johnson's England regime, with which he had fallen out comprehensively, as he could possibly get. His first season with the freshly minted Rebels set-up was not an unqualified success – he was lambasted for defensive frailties on the field and disciplinary foibles off it – but, with the arrival of two bright-spark Wallabies in Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor for this year's elite southern hemisphere tournament, he felt in a good place to raise his game.
There have indeed been positive signs of a return to vintage attacking form in recent weeks, but the Australians were never wholly convinced by his efforts and with Beale being tipped to take over the No 10 duties – a move that would have cost Cipriani his place in the starting line-up – both player and team decided an early parting of the ways might suit all concerned.
"I said goodbye to the boys: I got five or six words out, but couldn't hold back my tears," Cipriani reported yesterday. "I want to thank the club for being so understanding and granting me a release to return to England. I've made no secret of my desire to play for my country again and I believe leaving now will give me the best opportunity to do that. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time in Melbourne: I've made some lifelong friends, played in front of an incredible set of fans in an amazing stadium and improved my game in one of the best provincial rugby competitions in the world. I feel I have developed, become more complete."
Cipriani agreed terms with Sale a few weeks ago and his appearance there will coincide with a serious attempt by Steve Diamond, the former hooker who performs the chief executive duties as well as those of "director of professional sport", to establish the club as the major union concern in the North of England. Richie Gray, the fast-developing Scottish lock, is also joining and, unless something very strange happens in the final round of Premiership matches this weekend, the two recruits will find themselves playing high-profile Heineken Cup rugby next season.
England are not as bereft of outside-half candidates now as they were a couple of seasons back: Owen Farrell of Saracens was a big hit during the Six Nations; Toby Flood has been playing some hot stuff for Leicester just lately; Freddie Burns of Gloucester has potential oozing from every pore; coaches up and down the land believe the teenager George Ford, currently understudying Flood at Welford Road, can safely be fast-tracked into the representative arena. But when it comes to the X Factor, Cipriani is the cream of the crop – a pure match-winner, albeit a temperamental one.
If Sale – and more specifically the former England coach Brian Ashton, who lives on the North-west coast and has acted as Cipriani's father confessor since the stand-off was in his teens – can help him rediscover the best of himself, the national team will not be the losers by it.
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