NIK SIMON: It is a great shame that Danny Cipriani never got a chance to shine on the big stage… He played in an era of safety-first, white collar coaches who didn’t want to leave their fate in his hands
The Love Island-worthy narrative around Danny Cipriani’s sex life barely challenged the news racks around Paris this week. The French have little interest in who the old No10 was or was not smuggling back into England’s team hotel. And it turns out they have even less interest in a fly-on-the-wall take through the 63-year-old eyes of Eddie Jones. Non merci!
Understandably, the conversation has been dominated by the joyful competition that kicked off on Friday night. ‘EN ROUTE POUR LE PARADIS,’ was the splash on La Parisien, whose idea of a paradisiacal bliss is unlikely to feature any kind of interaction between Jones and Cipriani.
What did spark debate around the bistro cafes with their obnoxious waiters was how such a talented individual was marginalised in such a bang average team. We never had the joy of seeing Cipriani play at a World Cup and the question in France was: why?
Cipriani talks about the player-led mafia in his new book but the godfather in any rugby team is the coach. Rugby has been dominated by safety-first, white-collar coaches who don’t want to leave their fate in the hands of someone who might show them up.
For years, personality and instinct has been squeezed out of players for the safety of a collective gameplan. Coaches look at rugby as a science rather than an art. Heaven forbid any player who defies the data-backed theories and hops out of the structure on their own. It’s safety in numbers.
It was a shame that Danny Cipriani never got the opportunity to shine for England at a World Cup
The fly-half was unfortunate to play in an era of safety-first coaches during his career
The best players find a way of reflecting their personality on the pitch. Owen Farrell does it in his gruff, abrasive and methodical way. In his early days, Cipriani was young and naive but naivety can be a thing of beauty in a sporting sense. A careless and sometime petulant abandon for consequences. His coaches did not know how to nurture his personality, so the easy option was to get rid.
It is a great shame that he never got a chance on the biggest stage. The wizard was kept in the cupboard beneath the stairs. Rugby was run by facilitators who would drop deep and rarely took a tackle.
But there is a sense that things are swinging in favour of the wizards. Defences are stronger and more organised. Props and locks are more mobile than ever which means there are fewer mismatches. It is not as simple as passing to a fast guy who can run around a slow guy. The 10 needs to offer an instinctive running threat to manipulate the defensive line and put it out of shape.
Finn Russell’s show-and-go forces defenders to bite and creates space for his Scottish team-mates. He may occasionally leave his coach with his heart in his mouth but it is a risk worth taking. Even the Springboks are doing it. Manie Libbok’s speed allows him to run the ball at lazy defenders, bringing an added dimension of chaos to South Africa’s structure.
The game is changing. Hopefully that’s good news for wizards. Timing was one of Cipriani’s strengths. The irony is that he probably arrived on the scene a few years too early.