Eddie Jones: Let Cipriani learn his trade at full-back

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The Independent Online

We've had a frenzied few days on the Danny Cipriani front – astonishingly frenzied, given that the fuss concerns an inexperienced player with one international start behind him. I'd like to add a little fuel to the fire by suggesting that if England pick Cipriani for the autumn Tests, they should play him at full-back rather than outside-half. Heresy? Not in my book. Looking at the way he plays his rugby right now, I'd say No 15 was the ideal spot for him.

Cipriani clearly has what it takes to play the No 10 role. He has good running skills, a strong kicking game and a sharp instinct for shaping a game. But quality time spent at full-back would be of incalculable value to him in terms of deepening his appreciation of where space arises and improving his awareness of how to break defensive systems. It would also suit England just at the moment. Most of the top centres in the country are running centres, so genuine ball players are at a premium. England will need two in their team, especially now there is so much kicking under the Experimental Law Variations. Cipriani at full-back is an obvious solution.

Back home in Australia, we had an outside-half by the name of Stephen Larkham. He played more than 100 times for the Wallabies, and for much of his career he was regarded as the premier outside-half in the world. Underpinning his success was the time he spent at full-back before shifting position full-time in his mid-20s.

Cipriani is blessed with many of the qualities that made Steve such a special player, but if we're honest, we should admit that as things stand, Cipriani's potential outweighs his achievement. In Australia, we tend to wait a little longer before we make superstars of our rugby players. Matt Giteau was plucked straight out of club rugby because we identified him as a big prospect, but he had to earn his spurs before people allowed themselves to go crazy. Cipriani has had one hell of a lot of publicity at an unusually early stage. He may well turn out to be legend. Right now, he's a big talent with a lot to prove.

I'll say this for him, though: his early recovery from a pretty shocking ankle injury marks him out as a high-achiever in the making. The best players always tend to recover from injury setbacks a little quicker than the rest. Why? Because there is a streak of desperation in them when it comes to conquering adversity. They go the extra step in their rehabilitation, just as they do in honing their skills or fitness levels.

I worked a lot with George Gregan, another player who goes down as one of the all-time Wallaby greats with a century of caps. When he was given the day off from training, he never took the day off, if you get my meaning. He used the time to work on his core stability, or practise his passing, or concentrate on some other part of his game he felt could be improved. From what I read and hear, Cipriani is cut from the same cloth.

Back on the subject of the laws, I was interested to read the comments of Toby Booth, the London Irish coach, after his team's exciting victory over Harlequins. He stressed the importance of empathy in the refereeing of matches, especially when they are subject to recent changes of law and interpretation. He was absolutely right. Without empathy, we don't have a game – not, at least, a game that anyone would want to watch.

Too often, referees faced with new edicts follow them to the nth degree instead of striking a balance between enforcing the letter of the law and embracing the spirit of the contest. Dean Richards, who controlled our recent match with Newcastle as well as the Quins-Irish fixture, has proved that a sensible approach pays dividends. Let's have more of it.

Eddie Jones is the Saracens director of rugby and you can see his side in action against Llanelli Scarlets at Vicarage Road tomorrow (KO 3pm).

What's Caught My Eye Warm-up weights

*Ever since the advent of on-field warm-up routines, coaches and players have restricted themselves to a small number of routines: some stretching, some run-throughs at half pace and short contact session using the tackle pads. Northampton did something strikingly different last weekend. Nick Johnson, their conditioning specialist, dotted some barbells around the place and had his blokes doing weights before kick-off! It was a new one on me. Apparently, it gets the fast-twitch muscles going and helps players get up to speed with the pace of a game from the start. Maybe I'll look into it...

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