Red Rose must swear by Danny despite slip

Colourful new No 10 proves worthy pretender to Wilkinson's throne but must mind his language
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The Independent Online

It would never, ever, have been uttered by Jonny. Even after seven goals from seven attempts and a contribution which exuded outrageous confidence in his ball-handling and kicking skills. But English rugby has already learned that the new man at No 10 approaches life in a decidedly more colourful manner than the man he has ousted.

"It's the fucking one to eight who deserve the man of the match," Danny Cipriani preferred to deflect praise of his own performance towards England's forwards when interviewed on live television after he had turned from sinner to saviour of England's fortunes within the space of a few days and, in doing so, transformed himself radically in Brian Ashton's affections.

Passed over one week, lording it the next, and, in between, apparently berating his elders among the forwards in training, accusing them of laziness; it all attests to his character. He later apologised for his lapse of judgement, claiming it was nerves. If so, they were the only ones he displayed all afternoon.

England's emphatic triumph here made him the youngest winning debutant at fly-half since 18-year-old Harlequin Henri Laird 80 years ago. The irony was that, maybe, just maybe, the England coach's much-criticised exclusion of Cipriani after his nocturnal activities ahead of the Calcutta Cup actually did the Wasp a favour, given the outcome and subsequent opprobrium heaped upon the England players.

Though the combative Jamie Noon was named man of the match, after a contest in which Cipriani enjoyed a huge influence on events, not least the impeccable dead-ball kicking, which yielded him four penalties and three conversions, who's to say that he wouldn't have had a significant impact on that contest at Murrayfield, too?

If this was Ashton's last supper, he feasted well as these sides scrapped for morsels of last-match pride. But the performance as well as the result will surely have silenced talk of a premature conclusion for the 61-year-old Lancastrian's England stewardship. For too much of this tournament, last year's World Cup final appearance has appeared a mirage. It has been inconceivable that Ashton's men had been that same side. Actually, they hadn't. Injuries and retirements saw to that. It has been one hell of a transitional phase, but finally it clicked for his men who displayed the kind of cohesion too frequently absent over the last two months.

Italy's earlier defeat of Scotland had placed that Calcutta Cup reverse last week in even more stark perspective. Ashton's only change had been to promote Cipriani, at the expense of Jonny Wilkinson, who had not been dropped for nearly nine years, and though Ashton's judgement had placed England's fortunes in the hands of a debutant and a rookie scrum-half, Richard Wigglesworth, it was to prove astute.

There may have been trepidation at the start within a crowd, for whom Wilkinson can do no wrong – and that point was emphasised when he stepped off the bench in the second half, not to replace but complement the young pretender in the second period – but Cipriani soon had them on his side, furiously orchestrating events around him, and impressing all with his deft kicking. As the Londoner continued to galvanised the backs, he set up Noon beautifully, demonstrating excellent sleight of hand, too, and the Newcastle Falcon just failed to make the line.

Late in the first half, the Londoner embarked on a fine solo dash through the Ireland ranks, his 14st 3lb almost impudently brushing aside Shane Horgan, more than 2st heavier, before being halted by weight of numbers. At half-time, Cipriani waited for his team-mates and gave them high fives before disappearing down the tunnel. There were, inevitably, occasional aberrations from a player whose potential first caught the eye of Ashton playing in a schools cup final, only three years ago. Much has been made of his contrast with the self-effacing, almost reclusive Wilkinson; this figure who, at 16, attended an audition to play a topless dancer on an MTV show, but was rejected for being "too skinny", since when his private life has been anything but. Yet, you sense he has the temperament to take media scrutiny in his stride.

The fact that England recovered from an early deficit to lead by half-time says much about the spirit within the squad. When captain Phil Vickery opined that England were "not far away from being a bloody good team" their fans could be forgiven for a wry smile, but yesterday England came dangerously close to vindicating that comment. After the interval Ireland looked a regenerated force, but aided by Ronan O'Gara's missed penalty, England survived an initial onslaught and responded in kind.

Then the moment when England's replacement, No 21, Wilkinson emerged, to a mighty ovation. He soon combined with the man who had usurped him, and five minutes after he had arrived, the pair were both components in Mathew Tait's try.

It was Cipriani's afternoon. He slipped when kicking the conversion but still added the points. It was appropriate that Noon should score England's third and final try. But he will understand why the cameras and microphones preferred to follow the No 10 at the final whistle. Though, if as some contend, Cipriani is eventually destined to become England captain, he will need to mind his language.

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