Cipriani confirms Melbourne move in act of rebellion

Wasps No 10 turns his back on England to sign lucrative deal in Australia
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The Independent Online

Danny Cipriani will wear the No 10 shirt for Wasps in tomorrow's high-octane London derby with Saracens.

He will not be wearing it much longer. Come the start of next season, he will be in Australia, preparing for the first of two Super 15 campaigns with the new Melbourne Rebels set-up and earning well over £170,000 a year, plus add-ons from his various endorsement contracts. Overpaid, overhyped and over there, you might say.

There is no doubting Cipriani's potential: the talk of the coaching community long before he first appeared in the public eye, he has delivered enough pitch-perfect performances to justify his reputation as the most gifted playmaker in the country. There again, he has struck his share of bum notes too. His struggle to nail down the outside-half position at Wasps gave Martin Johnson, the national manager, the reason he needed not to pick him at international level.

The England hierarchy have been losing patience with the whole Cipriani fandango for some time: not because they are exasperated by the media obsession with the 22-year-old Londoner's love life, although they are certainly suspicious of its effect on his rugby, but because their relationship with the player broke down well over a year ago and has been going from bad to worse ever since.

Cipriani hinted at this yesterday when he said: "I have been given no indication that I am pushing for a place with England at the moment." Equally, Johnson gave no indication that he gave so much as a tuppenny damn about Cipriani's plans when pressed on the question a couple of weeks ago. In theory, the player could spend the early months of next year running rings round Dan Carter and Matt Giteau and then join England's summer training camp ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand. In practice, Johnson is more likely to select an overweight has-been from the local pub than a man with a preference for self-exile.

For all that, he must surely understand that Cipriani's decision increases the pressure on the England regime. If Johnson's predecessor, Brian Ashton, had his own run-ins with Cipriani – he once sent him home from the national academy for disciplinary reasons and famously dropped him from the England team on the eve of a Calcutta Cup match – he also understood how to coax the best from him. On the basis that this is what coaches are meant to do, yesterday's news hardly amounts to a triumph of man-management.

Leicester v Gloucester

Talking of outside-halves, a good many eyes will be fixed on Toby Flood at Welford Road this afternoon. Released from the England camp on the basis that he needs game time, Flood will assume the No 10 role should Jonny Wilkinson fall further from grace. Gloucester, seriously scratchy in the early months of the season, are in much brighter mood now, but the absence of the injured James Simpson-Daniel from the back division does nothing for their prospects at the least pregnable of Premiership fortresses.

Bath v Worcester

Matt Mullan, capped for the first time off the bench in Rome last weekend, also has a big day ahead of him. The Worcester loose-head prop has the England incumbent Tim Payne under a heap of pressure and if he can make headway against a useful Bath front row, the chances of a start against Ireland next Saturday will be enhanced. Bath have Olly Barkley, injured all season, back in the mix.

Harlequins v Northampton

Harlequins have not lost a Premiership match at the Stoop since September and their chances of continuing that run against the form side in the competition are enhanced by the reappearance of the captain Will Skinner in the back row.

Newcastle v London Irish

The current England internationals Paul Hodgson and Steffon Armitage, return for the Exiles, who have won only two Premiership games in six.

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