Gloucester look to Danny Cipriani for Munster-like miracle
It is rare that the maverick English outhalf is ever judged on his rugby alone
Danny Cipriani is back in the Gloucester team to face Munster on Friday night. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Search for ‘Danny Cipriani fitness’ on Google and the first result to appear is an article in GQ magazine published on Tuesday January 8th: “Danny Cipriani fitness diary: the rugby star walks us through his week.”
This is followed by the news that Gloucester’s enigmatic outhalf is ready to return to action this weekend, after spending a month on the sidelines with a chest injury.
From the glossy pages of GQ to a European date with a snarling Munster. From inspiring England to victory over South Africa in Cape Town last June, to being arrested for assault in Jersey two months later. It is rare Cipriani is ever judged on his rugby alone.
But on Friday night, as Johann van Graan’s side visit in the Heineken Champions Cup, Gloucester need Cipriani the talisman, rather than Cipriani the celebrity.
Munster arrive under the Kingsholm lights knowing victory would put them on the brink of qualification for the knockout stages. The hosts realistically need a bonus point win to keep their European campaign alive, before they travel to Top 14 champions Castres in round six.
There are a lot of similarities between the two clubs. Like Munster, Gloucester are a proud provincial institution steeped in history, hailing from a proud rugby city. Kingsholm, like Thomond Park, is a bear pit of a ground, backed by the vociferous Shed.
There is also plenty of shared history. Friday night’s game will be the seventh between the sides in the Heineken Cup - the current score tally reading 5-1 in Munster’s favour.
Their most famous meeting came in the final pool fixture of the 2003 tournament. Munster needed to beat Gloucester by four tries and 27 points at Thomond Park to progress at the visitors’ expense. As is often their way in Europe, they roared to a 33-5 victory.
Now Johan Ackermann’s side are in need of a miracle of similar proportions. And if they are to perform a Munster-esque act of escapology, then it will surely require a sprinkling of stardust from the maverick Cipriani.
There is no better stage for Cipriani to prove his World Cup credentials than under the European lights against Munster
The 31-year-old was last seen during Gloucester’s damaging 29-17 defeat at home to Exeter in the fourth round of the Champions Cup, where he sustained the injury which has since kept him out of action.
Reports on Cipriani’s rehabilitation at the start of this week were positive, with Ackermann confirming the 31-year-old came through a semi-contact training session on Tuesday, and he was named in the starting line-up on Thursday afternoon.
And his return is sorely needed. It was a lean Christmas for Gloucester, with a narrow win away to Newcastle on December 23rd followed by defeats at home to Sale and away to Leicester.
Meanwhile, Munster clicked nicely into gear during the festive period with consecutive victories over Leinster and Connacht - results inspired by their own mercurial outhalf, Joey Carbery.
Cipriani could provide Gloucester with the creativity and spark needed to beat Van Graan’s side and claim an elusive bonus point.
Cipriani’s move from Wasps to Gloucester last summer was the latest fresh start for the nomadic 10, with the aim of cementing his place in Eddie Jones’s England squad ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
At 31-years-old, Cipriani has only made 16 appearances for England since his debut in 2008 - 11 of them as a substitute - which is criminally low for a player of his rare talent.
Yet after he delivered a fine performance in Cape Town last June, with England’s 25-10 third Test win preventing a Springboks whitewash, he was then arrested for an incident during Gloucester’s pre-season tour of Jersey in August.
Cipriani was charged with common assault, larceny, assault on police, resisting arrest and being disorderly on licensed premises. He also lost his place in Jones’s England plans, being left out of subsequent training squads and the autumn internationals.
But the New Year has brought new hope for Cipriani, who could soon be granted another chance - and surely his last - with the national side.
Indeed, Ackerman has confirmed Cipriani was included in a meeting of England’s elite player squad at Bisham Abbey on New Year’s Eve - suggesting he is on Jones’s radar for what will be a gruelling year of international rugby.
If Cipriani can stay fit between now and the end of the summer then he could provide the perfect foil for Owen Farrell at outhalf, his vision and creativity at first receiver adding another dimension to England’s game.
And there is no better stage for Cipriani to prove his World Cup credentials than under the European lights against Munster. Controversially red carded at Thomond Park during Gloucester’s 36-22 defeat last October, Cipriani will have a score to settle on Friday night.
But more pertinently, he has the chance to start the defining months of his career on the right foot.