Cipriani the anti-Jonny ascends the throne

It’s almost as if Danny Cipriani is going out of his way to be as different from Jonny Wilkinson as possible. Not content with having been dropped for going to a nightclub last week, he has now sworn on BBC1 at teatime. That puts him in a pretty exclusive club with the likes of the Sex Pistols. There will be plenty of left wing whingers lodging complaints, branding him an oik and yearning for his predecessor, the man whom everyone would like to marry their daughter. To be honest, that probably says more about them than about Cipriani. Personally I thought it was hilarious and rather endearing, but you would never catch Wilko uttering such obscenities.

Cipriani possesses none of the almost crippling self-doubt which haunted the young Wilkinson. If Wilkinson did 99 good things in a game, he would stay up all night worrying about the 1 thing he did wrong. With Cipriani you sense it is the opposite, that he could mess up several times in a row but it would only take one moment of success to reaffirm his faith in his own ability. This is not to accuse him of arrogance or of ignoring errors when he makes them. It is a tremendous attribute to have, the attitude that what is done is done, and to retain the belief that your next action will be outstanding. This is another area in which he is the anti-Jonny.

Cipriani is a very different player and person to Wilkinson but what they share is a huge desire to excel, a tremendous work ethic and the fact that they are pretty good at rugby. Wilkinson’s quest for perfection is well-documented but Cipriani is reputed to always be one of the last men off the training pitch and pays for his own sprint coach in his spare time. Everything in his life is channelled to being the best rugby player he can possibly be and with his natural talent that could be something to behold.

Cipriani was absolutely outstanding against Ireland. Journalists and commentators were bandying around words such as ‘maverick’ but that does him a serious disservice. He possesses very sound basic skills, excellent vision, a sharp brain and good decision-making. He is lightning quick and always has an eye for a gap. It is only in England’s arch-conservative rugby culture that a fly half who likes to run is branded a maverick. If he starts chucking 30 yard Carlos Spencer-esque passes behind his own line when one point up in the last minute (as Spencer has done on occasion), then he may be considered a maverick. As it is he possesses the distribution skills of Charlie Hodgson, the attacking intent of Spencer and the pace of Jerry Guscott. That is a pretty compelling combination with the potential to produce as complete a rugby player as any.

The main worry in Wilkinson’s absence was that England would miss his metronomic goal-kicking but those concerns were allayed by Cipriani’s flawless display. Cipriani retained kicking duties after Wilkinson came on and chose that period to hit a touchline conversion straight through the middle in a swirling wind. Not bad.

I promoted the Cipriani-Wilkinson 10-12 axis before the tournament and it certainly looked decent on Saturday. However, Toby Flood looked rejuvenated when released from Wilkinson’s shadow and played with an imagination and liberty which we had not previously seen this season. With Olly Barkley in excellent form and Shane Geraghty going well between injuries, England suddenly have options in midfield.

I am sure Wilkinson will rise to this challenge and strive to improve himself further but I think he can wave good bye to the 10 shirt for the time being. Wilkinson is a guy who has made the absolute most of his talent through his sheer desire to succeed. Cipriani has more raw talent and if he retains his hunger to the same extent then Wilkinson will struggle to compete. For now it is all about Danny. He got one thing wrong yesterday though. Forget the forwards and Jamie Noon; he should have been f**king man of the match.

 by Stuart Peel

10 thoughts on “Cipriani the anti-Jonny ascends the throne

  1. Whilst Danny definitely had a good game, I think the general reaction is still a bit OTT. That was clearly not a good Ireland team and Horgan and Trimble are not their first choice midfield.

    However, Cipriani did boss things well and Jonny looked a different player when he came on. Dawson made a point recently about Jonny playing better when he had a Catt or a Greenwood calling the shots and I think the same thing was going on here. A few games with these two at 10-12 is well worth an experiment particularly as Danny’s kicking is not always as perfect as it was this week.

    Let’s give the kid the 10 shirt for the NZ tour but not expect too many miracles just yet…

  2. I also think the hype has been blown out of proportion. Dropping Jonny is such a big event that his replacement was bound to be scrutinised and the reaction to his performance was always going to be extreme.

    If he had played badly, he would have been taken apart – ‘nowhere near as good as Jonny’, ‘too arrogant’, ‘it’s too early for him to make the step up to international rugby’ etc.

    As it was, he stood out in a fairly average backline and suddenly he’s the saviour of English rugby. I’m not trying to take anything away from him, but let’s not get carried away just yet, and Stuart Barnes’ suggestion that he should be made captain after one start is ludicrous.

  3. I agree that Haskell could be a great option for captain. A young, energetic new skipper would complement the new coach we are overdue nicely. When fit he is one who should be sure of his place from now in a new look back row.

    If Barnes removed his chubby face from Cipriani’s nether regions for a breath of air he would see just how ridiculous it is to speak of him as an immediate captain replacement. It was also obscene that the Sunday Times in England put him on the front page rather than an Englishman who had actually won something: Shaun Edwards.

  4. I came here to read people’s views on the game and maybe post my own comments, but I’m so disturbed by Rob D’s comments about Stuart Barnes on DC’s nether regions that I’m powerless to comment – I need therapy fast!

    Somehow, all talk of who should play where seems a bit redundant right now when it’s higher up the chain that we need to see urgent, sweeping changes.

    On the plus side though this 6 Nations has shown we have some great players coming through (to add to the likes of Hipkiss, Simpson-Daniel and Lewsey that were left out), hopefully for a new coach to work with.

    We can only hope that the gutless, indecisive overpaid tosser Rob Andrew gets it right this time and doesn’t fall for the tabloid notion that winning convincingly over an injury-stricken out of sorts Ireland team at home spells the end of our problems overnight.

  5. I would agree that, typically, the press are getting massively carried away by Cipriani’s efforts. But I think the point about Cipriani on Saturday was just the way he handled himself in what were, I think we all agree, exceptionally high pressure circumstances for a 20 year old making his first start.
    In only making the one change after Scotland, Ashton was basically saying ‘you go in and single-handedly sort out the disappointing underachievers around you and while you’re at it, replace a legend and kick all your goals.’

    That’s a pretty outrageous ask and he equipped himself fantastically well. The criticism of Hodgson is that he always looked like he was playing in Wilkinson’s shadow (granted Wilko was injured then rather than dropped). But Cipriani looked utterly unfazed, backed himself and put in a more rounded fly half performance than I for one thought he was capable of at this stage. It is for that, not necessarily for his performance in isolation, that I think people are justified in getting excited.

  6. Well let’s be clear…this s not Cipriani’s first high-stress match. He’s a professional after all. He exceeded my expectations, but the real issue to me is that the rest of the team were essentially ommitted from praise in the glaring lights of the Cipriani-Wilco media storm. I personally don’t think Cipriani inspired the team to new heights. I think the shock of seeing Wilco dropped got everyone pretty motivated. I would like to know what Cipriani did so well besides his kicking? Did he even make any tackles? Any assists? None of note that I saw.

    In addition, finally changing up the game plan was like lifting a wet blanket off the players. As I’ve mentioned in the past, this will be critical for all the Northern Hemisphere teams to compete once the ELVs make their way.

    So, I take my hat off to England as a team, and hold judgment on the future of Cipriani. After watching him play, my first thoughts were also of Carlos Spencer, but we will have to wait to see if this comparison hold true.

  7. As others have said, let’s not get carried away by a victory over an Ireland team weakened by some key injuries and a coach even worse than BA, playing away from home in a meaningless match. I didn’t think it was that great at all. The pack were given an easy ride, and should have made more yards than they did. Cipriani was sound, but not fantastic. Compared to the last four games, even mediocrity would have been an improvement. His confidence and determination to be in control – even if that means directing the more “senior” players around him – was most encouraging for me. But he is certainly not ready to be captain Barnesy.
    As Rob says, team selections seem irrelevant right now – the coaching staff needs to change first. I read that RA made some noises about not seeing the need to change anything before the NZ tour. If that is still his view, then he is an idiot and should be fired (actually, even if it isn’t, he is, and he should be). Can you imagine the Blacks reviewing the tapes of England’s 6N tour in preparation – they will be wetting their pants, but not through fear.

  8. I disagree with you there Vic – granted the young pretender’s proved nothing yet, but it was his first high-stress game of that intensity. Club rugby, even the Heineken Cup, does not match Test Match pressure. Especially when you’ve been drafted in for the last game of the Championship, replaced an institution and after having been dropped the week before at the 11th hour for a schoolboy misdemeanour.

    This was the Cipriani show, he lived up to the hype and, whilst the team played better from 1-15, don’t be taking any clothing off to a team that underachieved this 6Ns, even if we did finish 2nd.

    Cipriani should be better than Spencer, he’s quicker and he can kick. More to the point, the team, and especially the backs, played better because he marshalled them and stood flat, giving others space. It was Cipriani’s hands and positioning as much as Noon’s good line that put the centre through to almost score. It was also the fly half directing traffic that led directly to Tait’s try, a great team play but orchestrated from 10. Jonny has’t been capable of these things for a while, if ever – although with Greenwood at 12 he did look more comfortable.

    Lets not get ahead of ouselves and leave the media to blow things out of proportion but this boy has buckets of talent and potential and oozes confidence. Even if he did sleep with a she-male!

  9. Forgot to say as well Vic, given the extra dimension Cipriani gives by standing so flat and constantly threatening with his pace, imagine the threat when the opposition ar forced to give an extra 5 yards from the set pieces if the ELV’s do come into effect.

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