Players’ Association fuming as Danny Cipriani faces ban
RFU following through with charge of ‘conduct prejudicial to interests of the game’
Gloucester have already fined Danny Cipriani £2,000 following a disciplinary hearing into the events which led to him pleading guilty to common assault. Photograph: Donall Farmer/PA
The escalating club versus country row over Danny Cipriani took a new twist on Tuesday with the English Rugby Football Union ignoring calls by the players’ union to drop its case against the England outhalf, revealing he will learn his fate later on Wednesday.
Cipriani is in the dock for the third time in a week after the RFU followed through with its charge of “conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game” following his conviction for common assault and resisting arrest at a nightclub incident in Jersey. A ban of two or more weeks would result in Cipriani missing the start of the Premiership season with his new club Gloucester and put into jeopardy his hopes of continuing his England comeback this autumn, having made his first international start for a decade in June.
The Rugby Players’ Association issued a statement on Tuesday morning demanding that the RFU drop its case against Cipriani after Gloucester concluded its own international investigation on Monday, fining the 30-year-old £2,000 but insisting “we do not believe he is guilty of bringing the game into disrepute”.
“The RPA was surprised to learn the RFU had charged Danny Cipriani with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game contrary to RFU Rule 5.12,” read an RPA statement. “Given that it related to an off-field, non-rugby related incident that occurred on club time, and had already been dealt with by the Jersey courts, we believe that it was appropriate for the matter to be dealt with by the club through its own disciplinary procedures. As Gloucester have now completed this process, we believe this should close the matter. We will be raising this directly with the RFU.”
The RFU remains adamant Cipriani has a case to answer, revealing the details of his hearing just hours after confirming Chris Ashton is also facing a potential six-week ban after his red card in a Sale friendly last week. It was initially thought Ashton was sent off for punching the Castres scrum-half Rory Kockott but the RFU on Tuesday released new footage of the incident and confirmed the red card was for a tip-tackle.
His hearing will take place on Thursday and, as the low-end entry point for a tip-tackle is six weeks, he is certain to miss the start of the season if he is found guilty. Indeed, considering Ashton’s previous disciplinary record – he served two bans totalling 23 weeks in 2016 – there is a real chance he will not play for Sale, following his summer move from Toulon, before England convene for the autumn internationals on 24 October.
All the while the debate of Cipriani’s treatment continues to rage and it is understood the RPA chief executive, Damian Hopley, is fuming at the RFU’s approach. Gloucester were equally furious when the RFU announced it would be charging Cipriani on Friday, claiming it was “singling out” the outhalf 24 hours after union insiders insisted it would wait until Gloucester had concluded their own disciplinary proceedings.
The RFU however, is refusing to back down with the director of professional rugby, Nigel Melville, reiterating the union’s position. “The core values of the game are really important to us at the RFU particularly, and to our young players and our role models and everybody else – we’ve all got to understand we’ve got a responsibility,” he said. “There have been some incidents that have been dealt with, and there has been a certain amount of media exposure to them. PRL [Premiership Rugby], ourselves, everybody in the game recognises the importance of the spirit and the values and we have to protect them.”
Ashton meanwhile, is facing the worst possible start to his return to England. Like Cipriani, he is yet to play for his new club but his summer move to Sale was immediately greeted with a recall to Eddie Jones’s squad for a pre-season training camp. His chances of winning a first cap since 2014 would be in serious doubt however, if he receives a lengthy ban.