Danny Cipriani: 'There were times when I was out of control'

The No 10 has made mistakes that have cost him a shot at World Cup glory he tells Chris Hewett but he's learning and determined to return to the England set-up

George Best, a flawed genius if ever there was one, never played at a World Cup, while Ryan Giggs, football's shop-soiled secular saint, is certain to retire from the game similarly unfulfilled. By these measures, Danny Cipriani's absence from rugby's imminent global shindig in New Zealand is merely a crying shame rather than a rank injustice that diminishes an entire sport. At 23, he has at least two more shots in his locker – in England in 2015, and in Japan four years later – and will surely hit the mark with one of them.

Yet those who rightly believe Cipriani to be a special talent – a once-in-a-blue moon kind of talent – are mourning his no-show in All Black country next month. Like Best before him and Giggs just recently, the Londoner has had his behavioural issues and seen them splashed across the public prints in full and glorious Technicolor. Unlike Best and Giggs, who failed to grace the biggest stage because they happened to represent countries unable to field teams good enough to qualify, Cipriani is missing the forthcoming jamboree through choice. His choice? Or the choice of Martin Johnson and his colleagues in the England coaching team? Now, there's a question.

It was certainly the player's decision to cut his ties with Premiership club rugby and move to Australia, where he has just completed a first Super 15 season with the new Melbourne Rebels franchise. There again, it was Johnson's decision to cast him as a red-rose outsider, rather than an insider capable of making the red rose bloom as it had not done since that year of years in 2003. Cipriani's relations with the England hierarchy broke down to such a degree that the "out of sight and out of mind" option became the only option worth considering. With the main event less than a month distant, are the regrets beginning to kick in?

"I wouldn't be human if I didn't feel a yearning to be involved," admits the former Wasps playmaker, back in this country with his fellow Rebels for an attractive friendly fixture with Bath at the Recreation Ground – the venue at which he once scored a solo try so spellbinding that he was instantly showered with stardust. "But what's done is done and I'm trying to move on. As my mum keeps telling me: 'There's no point crying over spilt milk'.

"Do I want to play for England? Of course I do. And I'm very conscious that this is my time, that now is the point where I should be starting to fulfil whatever potential I have. I feel I understand how to play the game – if there's one thing I understand in the world, it's rugby – but I also have to accept that there were moments when I was out of control and occasions when I didn't understand how to put my point across to other people.

"The important thing now is to keep working hard – in fairness, I've always done that – and put myself in the best position to play the rugby I want to play. What happened between me and England happened. It's life. I haven't spoken to anyone in the England set-up: I know what I'll be doing over the next few months and they have bigger fish to fry at the moment. But I don't feel bitter and I know there's no bitterness coming from Martin. I want to move everything forward by performing so well that eventually, they'll have no choice but to pick me."

Pick him, England surely will. But when? And from where? There is no question of Cipriani cutting short his stay in Melbourne: he signed for two seasons and he intends to deliver his side of the bargain. Yet the widespread assumption that he will return to England the moment the 2012 Super 15 tournament ends has no basis in fact. Even though the Rugby Football Union has decreed that only home-based players will be considered for the national team from the start of next year, their lost maestro may not find his way back to his homeland in anything resembling a hurry.

"There are things I'll have to weigh up," he says, unwilling to commit himself. "I'm excited by the Rebels and by rugby as it is played in Super 15. I'd love to be in a position to play Super 15 and play for England as well. It would be a perfect arrangement. I'd stay fresh and I'd be performing week in and week out with and against some of the people who really move the sport forward, which is better than coming up against Wallabies and the All Blacks you admire from afar and take the field thinking 'Jeez, these people are brilliant'.

"Also, I'd miss only three or four Super 15 games during a Six Nations championship – something that could probably be agreed contractually. Next year should be one of the best of my life: we have Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor [two members of the sensational Wallaby back division promising great things at the World Cup] joining us in Melbourne and the prospect of working with them is pretty attractive. If push comes to shove, there will be a lot to think through, a lot of different emotions to balance."

Cipriani was first capped in 2008, by Brian Ashton. A few weeks later, Ashton lost his job to Johnson, despite taking England to a second successive World Cup final and a top-two finish in the Six Nations. Teacher and student remain in close touch. "Brian is one of the great coaches and I'd love to link up with him again some day," says Cipriani. "I've known him since I was 15 and the lines of communication have always been open. That's very important to me." He also uses Shaun Edwards, the Wales defence strategist, as a sounding board, having worked under him at Wasps.

This latter connection is viewed by some as ironic, given that defence is often cited as a weakness of Cipriani's game, just as Quade Cooper, the electrifying Wallaby outside-half, is routinely dismissed as an occasional tackler. "Quarterbacks in American football are paid not to tackle," quips the Englishman with a theatrically sorrowful shake of the head, "but I suppose outside-halves have to do that stuff. I'm doing my best to improve my defensive game, and as it's a state of mind rather than a technical challenge, I think I'll get there."

He is also planning to spend the next six weeks sharpening up with the renowned sprint coach Margot Wells, who helped her husband Allan to Olympic gold over 100 metres in the 1980 Moscow Games. Pace has always been high on the list of Cipriani's virtues as an attacking midfielder and now, two years after suffering a fracture dislocation of the right leg during a Premiership game, he feels he is finally back up to speed. "I believe I'm in the best condition of my life," he says.

All he has to do now is stay healthy and rip up the next Super 15 tournament by way of laying the foundations for a return to the Test scene, while maintaining a distance between himself and the front pages of newspapers at home and abroad. Can he manage all this? Even the last bit?

"In the end, it's up to me to be more wary. I know that now," he replies. "My ups and downs always seem to get published somewhere – I could be out with friends, drink water all night and still find myself in print – and I do feel that people pre-judge me. There wasn't a clean slate for me even when I went to Australia: in fact, it was probably worse, because I'm English. There again, I turned up a couple of weeks late and put myself on the back foot straight away.

"What people don't write about is the stuff I do away from the spotlight: I coach at junior schools in Melbourne, I've played for local clubs to help them out. It seems some journalists find it easier to blow things out of proportion than be sympathetic towards me. But the important thing is that I feel accepted by my team. Yes, there were things I got wrong, but for a 22-year-old to leave his home for a new career on the other side of the world... that's a big step for anyone, isn't it?"

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants