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RP Interview with Danny Cipriani

By Michael Cantillon
Wasps fly-half Danny Cipriani

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Mercurial fly-half talks last season’s pain, repetitive England questions and Wasps’ silverware quest.

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Wasps fly-half Danny Cipriani is convinced the hurt of last season will drive them on to silverware in 2018.

The club’s 2016/17 campaign promised so much but in the end fizzled out following an agonising extra-time defeat to the Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham in the Premiership final & a quarter-final defeat in Dublin against Leinster.

It’s now nine seasons without a trophy for Wasps, with their last Premiership title coming in 2007/08 and European gong in 2006/07.

There has been an undeniable period of rebuilding under Dai Young, but Cipriani says that rather than their trophy drought inhibiting them, it will drive them on.

“We’re growing as a group and with those types of big games, sometimes the scars of losing can teach you to go one better.

“You look at Saracens. They kept getting to finals and not quite getting over the line and now they can’t stop winning finals because they’ve been through those challenges and experiences together.

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“It’s something you’ve got to keep learning from, as those experiences can only do you well in the future.

“This squad is very hungry to keep improving which is a real positive sign after experiencing the hurt of those defeats. That’s the main quality we’ve got as a group: we want to keep improving.”

Rugby is littered with success stories for those who have previously fallen at the final hurdle in excruciating fashion.

Saracens, Munster, Clermont, Exeter. Each of these sides experienced final heartbreak before glory and such a trend is not limited to them.

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Failure certainly is not a prerequisite for success, but it certainly helps.

So far this season, Wasps are two from three in the league following a convincing home win against Sale on opening day, a scruffy away win at Worcester and a first home league defeat since December 2015 versus Quins.

The game at Sixways was ultimately decided by a typical piece of ingenuity from Cipriani late on, as he put in a sumptuous cross-field kick, which Josh Bassett gobbled up to put them out of reach.

Pieces of superb individual moments of skill have become almost synonymous with Cipriani at this stage, but how much of it is pre-planned and how much is off the cuff?

“I think what we practice on the training ground every week is important to get into the right positions,” he said. “You see we had our loosehead prop Matt Mullan going into the line and pulling the ball back to me and the boys are in the right place at the right time.

“It’s not so much magic but just good process and luckily it was executed well and Josh Bassett finished it.

“It’s definitely off the cuff but it’s still being able to be in the right position at the right time and being able to capitalise upon a slight chance.

“I know Josh from obviously working week-in week-out with him in training and he finishes those regularly, so it was nice to see him get one in the game.

“On paper, this is one of the most talented teams I’ve played in, especially in the backline and then for sure in the forward pack there’s a lot of talented guys that don’t get the credit.

“We are very blessed with a great squad and it’s a great opportunity to try to go and win the Premiership this season.”

Almost every interview the 29-year-old playmaker does these days comes out with the same headline: ‘Cipriani aiming for England recall’, and there is understandable frustration on his part. Nobody likes being asked the exact same question repeatedly.

Having made his England debut in 2008 at the age of 20, he has gone on to claim 14 caps but last donned the Red Rose in August 2015 and is yet to do so under Eddie Jones. He must miss it immensely?

“I think you miss ex-girlfriends when they go but that’s life isn’t it? Not much you can do about it,” Cipriani responds quick-wittedly.

“Right now I’m going to do the best I can for Wasps, but every interview or person I talk to wants to veer along the side of getting back into the England team.

“But every English player wants to play England. That is what you want to do, it is the pinnacle of where you want to be at.

“If I’m not getting picked, okay, but the last time I played for England I got man of the match after 17 minutes so I was pretty happy with that.

“It’s been the case for how ever many years for every squad announcement, people have got to write what they’ve got to write.

“Rugby’s a very unique sport. You see a lot of people talk a lot of nonsense and you see a lot of people talk a lot of sense, but you’ve just got to get on with it and move forward.

“If I can implement the things that I need to do then great, England is definitely something that’s on my mind, but it’s a massive project at Wasps and I’m really trying to spearhead and lead that this season and hopefully we can go one better than last year.”

In this year’s European Cup, Wasps have been drawn alongside Ulster, La Rochelle and Harlequins. A difficult group no doubt, but then there really are no easy pools anymore.

The first of those comes in Belfast against Ulster on October 13, while their first home game is against Premiership rivals Quins a week later.

“I think you look at our European group and how strong it is, you’ve got players and squads who on their day can all produce fantastic performances, so we’ve got to make sure we stick to the process and do our things right.

“We’ve got four or five weeks until the first European game and we’ve got to keep learning and growing as a squad.

“Dai (Young) is a very strong leader, a very strong managerial tactician. He knows the squad very well. He’s been there quite a while and he’s looked after the squad when things weren’t going great.

“He’s stuck with them and brought them out of that hole now and for the last three or four years they’ve had a very strong squad, and he’s really challenging us to push ourselves to go one better.”

One thing most noticeable talking to Cipriani, is the steely determination in him to win something this season and one suspects Wasps will be there or thereabouts again.

They are hurting, and hurt often breeds winners.

Cipriani was speaking at BGC Partners Charity day held to remember the friends and colleagues who died in the 9/11 attacks.

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