England Rugby nighclub scandal: 'Look, I have to drop you'
Cipriani was ‘papped’ outside a Mayfair nightclub in 2008 at 2.30 a.m. on a Thursday morning before he was due to play for England on the weekend. Players had been allowed out from England camp provided they slept in their own beds.
However, when Cipriani made the front page of a number of English red tops, then head coach Brian Ashton felt he had no option but to drop the maverick star.
“From 16 the media started writing about me, about this golden boy and you’d love being spoken about nicely, you feel some value from that. I didn’t get that from my parents, I’d get it from my coaches, from external sources. For me it filled my cup up a bit more,” Cipriani told the Under the Surface podcast.
“Then I was going to go and play for England on the Saturday, on the Wednesday after physio I dropped off my friend who was in a nightclub, I was in there for 10 or 15 minutes and was home just after 12, but I was snapped on my way out and it was on the front page of all the papers the next day and the England coach at the time Brian, who I’m still friends with to this day and he was fantastic – Brian Ashton – said to me ‘Look, I have to drop you, I can’t select you’.
“I don’t know if his arm was twisted by the RFU, but rugby is a sport of looking to try and do the right thing, they want to hold that façade of doing the right thing rather that what is actually true and what matters, realising that it was only a minor incident doesn’t matter – they want to hold the image of who they are. Holding on to an image, as I’ve learned through my life journey, is only going to cause you more distress, hence why the sport is in distress at the minute with everything that is happening at the minute.
“It was what it was [the media attention], and I experienced those times and those difficulties. At 22, I felt like I didn’t want to be here tomorrow, I didn’t want to see the next day, I didn’t see any way out with the way I was being spoken about and being treated. I’d walk down the street and if someone looked at me, I’d presume it was negative thought, I’d presume all these things. I got to a point where it was a very dark place and I felt like I wanted to take my own life.
“That never transpired but the way the media speak, the words they used, the way they judge and critique – I had a friend [Caroline Flack] of mine who did take her own life and she did go down that route. When it comes down to being fair, it’s not necessarily whether it’s fair or not, the hounding and the way they behave; it’s unjust. Ultimately, Caroline was such a beautiful human being and the way they spoke about her, you see it hasn’t changed now the way they handle situations.”
The death of close friend and former partner Caroline Flack had a major impact on Cipriani, who struggled to deal with her death following a high-profile press campaign against her in the wake of a domestic abuse incident.
“The grief I was feeling was so personal, because of her experience and my own experience. She text me the night before a game and I couldn’t call her on the phone, so I said I’d speak to her tomorrow, because I had a game – this thing that I thought I was destined to do, this job that I was destined to do, came in the way of me speaking to someone who ended up taking their own life.
“For a long period, I felt ‘F*ck, what if I’d spoken to her, what if I’d done something’, I can even feel the emotion coming through now speaking about it. I was like ‘a game got in the way of that’. It makes you think about life differently.
“The grief that I felt is what drove me to do that message – it wasn’t a good career move; it wasn’t good for me to go and do that. That was me getting off my chest and my shoulders what she couldn’t. To free myself and be able to sit here. Since then, I’ve gone on a whole journey of truth, of love, of honesty, of facing myself over and over again. To be sat here speaking, you can take moments of this out of context, and it can look a type of way, but I’m only ever speaking from my heart.
“Sharing my experiences if it can make people view life differently – great. Because my life has been so pubic, I’m going to show the media what it is that they do and how they do it. I’m not on a hate mission, because hate doesn’t do anything, it has to be through love, through honest conversation, communication, and make people feel what the truth of the matter is. Then to be accountable for their actions. They also have to be honest, otherwise they’re going to be carrying that for the rest of their lives. And Caroline was such a beautiful person that she wouldn’t have wanted anybody to feel any type of way, any badness or negativity.”
Despite his age and having no played for a season, the former Wasps man is open to playing again in the right circumstances.
“I loved my career and I’m still available to be selected now. I’d only play at a level which I felt was extremely challenging. I’ve been offered to go abroad and to go and play in different places but, for me, I want to challenge myself now because I’ve never been of clearer mind and thought, and I know the type of rugby that I would play and how much I would enjoy it, and in doing so would probably play some of my best rugby.
“But it would take a coach who is very courageous and also humble and willing to learn – I’m not saying learn from me but just in general. If that’s his mentality then we can have a two-way conversation, and both come to the best conclusion, whereas rugby is very much do as I say and rules out the infinite possibilities of what is.”
Danny Cipriani, speaking on the Original Penguin X Campaign Against Living Miserably UnderThe Surface podcast.
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