Trials of the enigmatic Danny Cipriani: What will happen next?
Gloucester’s mercurial outhalf is a more complex individual than litany of off-field issues show
Danny Cipriani: few have doubted his unsettling problems have stymied a career. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
In the spring of 2013 Danny Cipriani was taken to hospital in Leeds with bruising and concussion. He had been hit by a bus while on a team night out.
In the wayfaring rugby life of the self destructive England and Gloucester outhalf, it was not the first that the thing he damaged most was himself and his reputation.
In danger of becoming self parody, few have doubted Cipriani’s unsettling problems have stymied a career. Now with Gloucester after declining offers from France, which would have meant a final and lucrative lurch into relative wilderness and away from England, he has turned towards a desperate last bid to play in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
For a short time his “remainer” decision seemed, finally, like a pause, a moment of self reflection. A maverick finding the composure to realise his rugby life still had a beating heart and maybe something to give at international level.
But an England debut at 20-years-old and just 16 caps to show at 30-years-old, Cipriani’s international file is thinner than the one housing his career misdemeanours of boozing and brawling.
For good reason England coach Eddie Jones didn’t trust him. Cipriani’s problem has always been attitude not aptitude and at Wasps prior to his move to Gloucester a fearful Jones ignored him. Less creative George Ford and Owen Farrell were sounder investments.
Recently, the 30-year-old fought his way back into contention in the England setup and made his first start for a decade on the summer tour of South Africa in June.
Then in August he pleaded guilty to charges of common assault and resisting arrest after leaving a police officer bruised and marked. Silly buggers on a Gloucester club night out in Jersey’s St Helier.
It was his first high profile infraction in three years and a serious one. In the public consciousness it was flaky Cipriani relapsing, the mercurial outhalf inviting doubt on his ability to respect the accepted norms of social behaviour and again throwing his judgement into question.
It also bookended 10 years of scrapes reaching back to 2008 when he was selected to make his first England start against Scotland, but was dropped after photographs emerged of him leaving a London nightclub after midnight.
In October of the same year he was knocked out by Wasps team-mate Josh Lewsey during a training ground bust-up.
Nobody appeared to ask why the highly paid sports star would steal a bottle of vodka from a nightclub
In 2010 during an England Saxons trip to Italy he caused outrage among fellow players and coaches with his bad behaviour before deciding to move to Australia to join the Melbourne Rebels. He was 22-years-old.
The public vulnerabilities and self exposure to no good continued. It took less than a year for him to be fined a one-match appearance fee by his new club.
Nobody appeared to ask why the highly paid sports star would steal a bottle of vodka from a nightclub. Destined to end in tears, Melbourne dropped him in 2011 after he missed training and broke team curfews.
Cipriani’s contract with the Australian club was finally terminated early in 2012 and he moved back to England to join Sale. The following year he was hit by the bus in Leeds.
His arrest on suspicion of drink-driving when he crashed his Mercedes Benz in west London in 2015 grabbed more trashy headlines and led to a conviction soon after.
He was banned from driving for 18 months, the same year the Rugby Football Union confirmed that Cipriani had a training ground row with England skills coach Mike Catt the day before the World Cup squad was announced.
In August resisting arrest, handcuffs, an ignominious ride to jail in a Jersey “meat wagon” and a court appearance two month after his England revival and his career was again smouldering.
The rap sheet coloured peoples’ choices about the player and for many it was much easier to show the complex personality a cold shoulder, rather than offer a soft one. But there is a parallel narrative.
The council flat in Putney where he grew up fatherless but with a devoted single mother gifted him with an endearing quality. Cipriani speaks with deep affection about the love and sacrifice she provided.
His girlfriend when he was 20, the model and actress Kelly Brook, drew in the paparazzi. Perplexingly for him they camped outside his door. Then at 22-years-old depression took grip and he took flight to a relative outback, Australia.
“I was quite badly depressed. I went to see a psychiatrist,” he told The Times earlier this year. “I think it is important to be honest about mental difficulties.”
The psychiatry helped him. But what he found most persuasive in finding stillness and meaning in his life was prayer and spirituality. He formed a close friendship with demigod surfer Laird Hamilton, learning about relaxation techniques and meditation, which he now practices.
Far from the caricature of a privileged, arrogant prig blinded by the greatness of his talent and celebrity status, Cipriani was the immature kid who instantly found success after making his first team debut for Wasps at 17-years-old.
Hopelessly short on the tools and coping mechanisms, he struggled to manage his life, especially in relationships with the very people with whom he needed to form bonds, other players and coaches. Alcohol was an additional hazard and Melbourne a hopeless effort to run.
Cipriani has put himself in a space where every game is a trial, and today in Limerick no less a judgement day
Today Thomond Park represents another mini chapter. A Munster side Premiership teams have grown to fear brings its own stress. With Cipriani not part of Jones’ autumn England squad, the next six months might be construed as another challenge to the perception of a flawed character, Cipriani’s final roll of the dice.
More recently Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann has described his playmaker as driven by desire. He needs to be. Cipriani has put himself in a space where every game is a trial, and today in Limerick no less a judgement day. He has made it that way. Joey Carbery is in a similar place for other reasons. The difference is that way was made for him.
There are eight years between the two outhalves. Both have shown magic, only one has caused mayhem. And that player has now distilled his career down to a zero sum game with fans and coaches of trust me or don’t trust me.
Preconceptions will always follow him. He understands that. Gloucester trust him. They also know they have sided with a recalcitrant, one with the ability to take it outside the play book. Both on and off the pitch.