'That's a bit of a misconception': Stuart Hooper explains precisely why Bath have gambled on signing maverick Cipriani
Ambitious Bath boss Stuart Hooper has outlined why he feels Danny Cipriani will be a good fit for his squad just months after the ex-England out-half stunned the Gallagher Premiership by walking out the door at Gloucester last December.
Having openly championed the recruitment of George Skivington as their new head coach to succeed Johan Ackermann, Cipriani didn’t hang around long at Kingsholm to help his new boss. Just a month into 2020/21 Premiership season there was a ‘mutual consent’ parting of the ways and Cipriani wasn’t heard of until Bath unveiled him as their new signing on Thursday.
“It is a shock to everyone outside the inner circle if you like,” said Skivington when it emerged that Cipriani had left pre-Christmas. “We kept it in-house until Danny had decided exactly what he wanted to do. It is what it is, to be honest with you. There is no smoke or mirrors to it. There has been no incident or any fall-out or anything of that nature.”
Hooper is convinced this sudden exit was indeed by mutual consent and has every confidence Cipriani will now give everything to the Bath cause when he eventually turns up at The Rec in May having had a period of training on his own to get himself up to speed for the one-year deal that will take him through to the end of the 2021/22 season.
Cipriani hasn’t played a match since Gloucester faced Leicester 18 weeks ago on November 21, but Hooper is sure his 33-year-old Bath signing is in a good place despite the relative uniqueness of someone taking an in-season sabbatical from the game in England that wasn’t caused by injury.
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“He’s good,” reported Hooper when quizzed about Cipriani’s state of mind and physical health after nearly four months without a club. “He is looking after himself, he is having an opportunity to look after his body, to rest first and foremost both mentally and physically and get himself back in a position where he is ready to compete again.
“He is training now and is away from us, he is getting himself ready to get back into the game and get himself as fit as possible. He has played for a long time and the opportunity for a break was something that he was really keen on doing.
“No it’s not (a usual kind of break) but it has got to work for you and it absolutely can be a positive thing. Some people get an enforced rest, don’t they? They will have an injury for a year or nine months. Not everyone has the opportunity to take time away from the game but Danny knows what works for him, he has got some great mentors, some great coaches working with him and his time away from the game I’m sure will refresh him and bring him to us ready to go.”
Hooper hasn’t stepped into this Bath deal lightly but is convinced he has his homework done regarding his decision for Cipriani to succeed the exiting Rhys Priestland, adding that the perception of the ex-England out-half as something of a go-it-along merchant who can’t play structured rugby is a myth he doesn’t buy into.
“For us it has been a thorough process to get to where we are with Danny and we are delighted to announce he is coming to the club. He is someone whose skillset has been evident for all to see across the different teams he has played for.
“To complement what we have got and to help develop what we have got as well, he was absolutely the right person. We have watched lots of his games and having watched him live many times and played against him and met him, he has been on the radar for a long time and we are just pleased to get it done at the right time.
“That is a bit of a misconception,” he added regarding Cipriani’s playing style. “Danny is an incredibly structured player who has got the ability to find space in a structure brilliantly well and what you see with Rhys over the last few years is he has been incredibly reliable goal-kicker but the rest of his game is pretty strong as well. The last few weeks have probably shown where that can go.
“It [signing Cipriani] doesn’t signal a sea-change in the way we play the game. It signals a signing which is part of our development and part of us getting better. Of course we want to take our game forward. We wouldn’t be signing him to go backwards so there will be developments – but it doesn’t signal a sea-change in what we do.
"Danny has never been able to change people’s perceptions of him"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 18, 2020
“My philosophy in how I lead this group, both staff and players, is to give them headroom to develop and to grow. I want to set an environment where everyone can be their best… it’s not about doing what you want when you want, there is absolutely a discipline and a rigour to what we do.
“Equally there is not a straitjacket. It’s not something ‘you have to do this, if you don’t do this you won’t get picked’. We don’t work like that. I don’t believe that is the answer. I can’t stand in front of a room of players like we have at Bath who have the ambition to be the best in the world both individually in their positions and as a team and put them in a tiny little box and say. ‘Do this’.
“That applies to everyone, whether it is Charlie Ewels on a lineout or Anthony Watson on a kick counter from full-back or wing. That is my philosophy and I believe the same thing for Danny, I want him to come here and be the absolute best version of himself within our team.
“He is going to be with us in May and part of that is allowing him to come in and integrate with the boys. I’m not expecting him to be ready to go straight away. The primary focus is on next season and making sure we have got everything in place to start next season well.
“It’s a unique situation signing a player from within the Premiership who is currently not at a club. Before Danny comes to us he has got to plan around getting himself fit, getting himself back ready to play Premiership rugby. We respect that, we will work with him on that and as and when the time is right he will be in the building with us.”
"Something has gone badly wrong for Danny Cipriani to go from eulogising over George Skivington’s appointment to leaving Gloucester in such a short space of time"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 18, 2020
Although Cipriani is set to turn 34 next November, Hooper suggested there is room for the veteran to stay on longer than a single season at Bath and the director of rugby will be looking to his new signing to mentor younger players in the squad such as Orlando Bailey.
“You can’t go on forever but he [Cipriani] is very diligent, he looks after himself and the experience side of it was key for us, it was really important. If you look at the demographic of our squad we have brought the age down considerably over the last three years and it’s important that there is age but experience as well – and Premiership experience. There are lots of players you can sign from outside the Premiership in that position but Premiership experience at 10 was a pre-requisite.
“We have a number of younger players, specifically at 10 with Orlando, and then in other positions as well with the likes of Max Ojomoh and some back three players as well. A very big part of what we are doing is developing our own players.
“We want to develop that homegrown pool of talent and some of that is about playing and some of that is about the experience of being out in the middle in the Premiership, some of it is about understanding what it takes to be a very top-level professional.
“Whenever we bring someone into the club in a key position, 10 being one of them, I always see part of their role is a legacy effect, how can they make the people around them better? People probably dismiss it a bit but for me, it’s not about taking away from you as a performer.
“A top-level performer, say Anthony Watson for example, he gets better by helping the people around him, he gets better by helping the other young wingers, and that is what I see in Danny, the opportunity to come in and do the same with some of our young players, not just the 10s but across the backline.”
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