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