Don’t ask Danny Cipriani about World Cup disappointment. Rather than feel doom and gloom that he ultimately wasn’t in Eddie Jones’ plans for the World Cup despite an initial brief dalliance in early July, he now views his England omission as a blessing in disguise, a rare opportunity to enjoy what he hasn’t had in years – a lengthy, refreshing off-season that has left him champing at the bit for the 2019/20 club season.
Cipriani speaks from experience. Set to turn 32 in November, he has been around the block for quite a while and the seemingly ever-increasing demands have taken their toll on a player who sounded grateful for Johan Ackermann’s arm-around-the-shoulder approach to his welfare once it became clear that the playmaker’s country wouldn’t be calling him for a Japanese tour of duty in the coming weeks.
Rather than feel cut up about a national team he had only ever won 16 caps for since a 2008 debut, he quick-footed it to America for some very welcome rest and recuperation following a stellar club season where he bagged a pile of individual awards, so exceptional were his efforts as the Gloucester talisman.
Now back in the comforting surroundings of Kingsholm, the flourishing impact his summer had was clear to see at Wednesday’s Gallagher Premiership new-season launch in London. Whereas answers in the past could easily be guarded and cliched on topics such as national squad omission, Cipriani was in a reflective, philosophical mood in a conversation that refreshingly was never stilted.
Did he feel hard done by over not making Japan 2019? Not in the slightest. “What is a fair crack of the whip? I can’t go in there demanding any time,” he shrugged. “It’s just characters and it’s just different people. Eddie is in a high-pressure situation being England coach and he has done a great job.
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“He has put his faith in George Ford and Owen Farrell and they have done well for him. Going into a big competition I would have had to turn water into wine to really sway him. It would have been very difficult to do so. I can completely understand why he made his decision. Do I think it was the right decision? I don’t know. I’m going to support England and hope they do great,” he offered, diluting the outside noise that surrounded his exclusion.
“Eddie Jones picks the team so it is a lot of people clutching at straws to try and create a problem before a big competition. Eddie is a very strong character and he is not going to be swayed by anyone. I never went into the England camps with any expectation.
“Going into a big competition he has backed Ford and Farrell for so long and they have brought him success. I knew I was on the back foot to try and do that so I went into it with no expectation. The only thing that I could do was enjoy it.”
He did, despite being cut loose. “Years ago going on an army camp would probably have been something I would have hated but my mindset was that I can only control my response. Our team ended up winning the trials and for me, that was the personal growth within it. You want to be with England, you want to be in Japan, but is it going to change me as a person? It is not. I’ve had the most amazing five or six weeks away (in California) and I wouldn’t change that.”
Adversity has been a regular companion throughout Cipriani’s career ever since he first gained notice at Wasps in 2006. However, don’t build him up into some sort of role model for regularly getting back off the canvas and carrying on. “Role model is a strong term,” he deflected. “In terms of someone that isn’t always going to have his way or have knocks in life, ups and downs, everyone has that. There are not too many people that have the golden ticket in life.
“I was here (at Twickenham) a couple of weeks ago and was talking to Doddie Weir. Something someone said to me was about how from a place of being uncomfortable, from a place of discomfort, greatness can come. Look at Doddie’s situation [the former Scottish international is battling motor neurone disease]. I don’t know if I would be as good a man in his situation because you don’t know until you are there, until you feel the discomfort, until you feel the pain.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 11, 2019
“So when you do, that is what creates someone to go and be great and get better and if they are not it might take more time for them to do so. If that is me being a role model in my way, in my discomfort which is not getting picked for a rugby team and going again, that is what I have to do,” he suggested, playing down his connections with England.
“I have not really played much for England, to be honest,” he shrugged, going on to react dismissively to the fact that he was capped in June 2018? “I played in South Africa, did I?”
Not that this ambivalent attitude is trivialising the disappointment felt by others who didn’t make the England World Cup cut. Less than an hour earlier in the same south-west London room Mike Brown had worn his heart on his sleeve over losing out on selection for Japan.
“You look at someone like Mike Brown, who is consistently playing at the top of his game. He didn’t get picked in autumn or maybe before that and he ended up having his best season with Quins last year. That is a credit to him because I know how much it means to him and how much emphasis he places on playing for England. So for him to turn around and have the best season, that is a credit to him. I’m proud of him for that.”
Enough of the national question, though. What about Cipriani’s insinuation that players are not given enough time to recharge and come back as good as new for the new club season? “For sure, off-seasons are way too short. There is so much I could go into but it probably wouldn’t be very PC to do so,” he suggested.
“Gradually over the last 15 years training length has gradually got longer and longer every single session and it takes its toll. Over the season that is an extra 40 hours on your feet if it is an extra hour every week. I don’t know the answer. I’m unbelievably grateful for Johan for giving me extra time off to be able to refresh myself mentally and be able to come back reinvigorated and excited because this year we have got a lot of good youngsters at Gloucester.
“My last seven, eight years, I have really tried hard to work with youngsters and hopefully have a good influence on them in terms of their play. That is a big challenge for me, to try and be as present as I can. That was probably the difficulty for me, putting everything into a season the last four years, the last seven years, and then you have only got four, five weeks off again. By the time I have had any dinner I’m already a week in.”
Veteran status sounds like it is suiting the 30-something Cipriani, although he refuses to tempt fate about his Premiership player of the year award being an indication that he could enjoy a fabulous Jonny Wilkinson-like conclusion to his career.
“I know he won the World Cup in ’03, but Jonny was playing his best rugby (later on). I don’t know if I will be playing rugby as long as that. I’m going to give it my best this season and assess every year. I have had a lot of internal growth, a lot of things. I have had to learn a lot over the last 20 years things come up at different points in my life. I had to teach myself to be a man from 10 years old and I didn’t do a great job at certain times, but who would?
? PREM LAUNCH
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) September 11, 2019
“I was always searching for answers or guidance. But then eventually you do know the answers and you just need to listen within and focus on it. I’m grateful people like Shaun (Edwards), all these people in my life who have helped shape me and my focus is can I be a good example for younger kids, how can I do that?
“Yeah, I have made mistakes. Yeah, my mistakes were probably a bit more public than others. But do I keep trying to move forward? Do I keep trying to learn? Yeah, I do. Does it mean I’m not going to make any more mistakes? I will try and not to.”
Cipriani’s final word was on his old pal Christian Wade, someone equally blessed with a spark to captivate an audience. Whereas rugby is still handsomely paying Cipriani’s bills, his former Wasps team-mate embarked on a great cross-sport adventure in 2019 in American football, making the Buffalo Bills’ training squad.
I’ve got so much to be thankful for! God has truly blessed me and allowed me to succeed in following my dreams. Thanks to the @BuffaloBills for this opportunity to continue to learn and develop as a football player. Let’s go Bills! #BillsMafia ??? pic.twitter.com/rzoYNb2hyJ
— Christian Wade (@ChristianWade3) September 3, 2019
Impressed? You bet. “For me, he is the best winger I have ever played with, one of the best in the world for his all-round game. He wasn’t getting the recognition – not necessarily that he deserved recognition because no-one deserves anything – but he wasn’t doing what he wanted in a sport and his ability is so extraordinary he can go and play NFL.
“You can understand his frustration… to see him go and do what he is doing now I’m super-proud of him for making the effort, for taking the leap, for taking a pay-cut for what it is now and hopefully the rewards will come.”
WATCH: The trailer for the new RugbyPass documentary on Tonga ahead of their September 22 World Cup opener against Eddie Jones’ England
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