Danny Cipriani is not exactly renowned for being backwards in coming forwards – it takes some neck, does it not, for a mere 21-year-old to play fast and loose on the contract front with a club like Wasps when recent performances at Premiership and international level have left almost everything to be desired. But the celebrity outside-half sounded just a little downbeat yesterday as he cast an eye over recent events ahead of this weekend's big Heineken Cup match with Leinster at Twickenham.
"I can't make it an excuse," he said, speaking of the phenomenal amount of attention he is attracting on the back of one brilliant Test display and, perhaps more to the point, his choice of a television actress for a girlfriend. "It would be nice if I didn't have a camera in my face when I get a parking ticket in the morning, but there's nothing I can do about it. Life would be easier without all this, but it's part and parcel of things."
Cipriani was at pains to insist that he did not over-egg the pudding in making his remarkably early return from a grisly ankle injury suffered towards the end of last season. "I'm gradually getting back to the form I was showing then," he said. "I'd like to think I'm very close. Shaun Edwards [his head coach at Wasps] told me of a time when he came back from serious injury and his own crowd were booing him because he wasn't back at the point where he'd felt good. You get the feel back only when you've had a run of games and put everything behind you. I have to make sure I recapture that emotion, that buzz, that aggression. I'm starting to do that now."
There cannot be the slightest doubt that Cipriani will be among the 32 names mentioned by Martin Johnson tomorrow, when the England manager revamps his elite squad ahead of the forthcoming Six Nations. Whether he is a member of the starting line-up from the get-go rather depends on his performances over the next fortnight.
Nick Mallett, the hard-pressed coach of Italy who must be dreading a Six Nations played under Experimental Law Variations that have marginalised the maul almost to the point of invisibility, has selected half a dozen uncapped players in a 30-man training squad for the meeting with England at Twickenham on 7 February, the opening day of the tournament. One of them is an 18-year-old unknown by the name of Tommaso Benvenuti, a utility back from Treviso who has yet to graduate from the Azzurri's national youth academy.
More familiar characters include five who are earning their corn in the Guinness Premiership, all of them tight forwards. The props include Matias Aguero of Saracens, Martin Castrogiovanni of Leicester and Carlos Nieto of Gloucester, while Saracens and Gloucester also contribute the hooker Fabio Ongaro and the lock Marco Bortolami respectively.
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