The 'not an honest evaluation' that left Danny Cipriani fuming
Danny Cipriani has opened up on his first start for England in 10 years, an appearance that ultimately proved to be the last time he ever played for his country. It was in Cape Town in June 2018 when Eddie Jones handed the maverick out-half the No10 Test jersey, the first time he had been selected in that position since November 2008.
Cipriani did his best, helping England to defeat the Springboks and snap a losing streak that had called into question the position of Jones as England coach. Instead of a potential third loss in South Africa finishing off the Australian, England won with Cipriani at the heart of their improvement.
However, while England were to progress from there to reach the Rugby World Cup final 17 months later, Cipriani was cast adrift once again and his appearance in Cape Town proved to be the last of his 16-cap career.
He has now revisited getting pushed aside by Jones in his autobiography Who Am I?, which will be published by Harper Collins on September 14 and is currently being serialised by The Times.
In the latest extract, Cipriani wrote: “It’s June 2018 and England have lost four in a row, including an embarrassing mauling by the Barbarians, so Eddie’s under a bit of pressure when we arrive in South Africa for the summer tour. But it’s still mostly Owen Farrell and George Ford running official team meetings.
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“There’s nothing joyful about Eddie’s approach to rugby, which means there’s no sense of excitement among the lads. It’s tough and it’s macho, us against the world, all geared towards getting a group to fight tooth and nail. That can get results short-term, but it’s not a viable long-term strategy.
“It’s clear to me now that the RFU only employed him because they were having a crisis. England had just failed to progress from their group at a home World Cup, losing the RFU millions of pounds, so they went for a bloke who seemed as far away from Lanny (Stuart Lancaster) as possible.
“Under Eddie, our time is micro-managed like you wouldn’t believe. Every night, each player gets a printout, telling him how the following day will look until 6 or 7pm. We’re even told when to sleep and how long for.
“Eddie rules by fear, and you’re never going to get the best out of people with that mindset. Why would a player make a decision based on what they see, which might be different and surprise the opposition, if they know Eddie’s going to come down on them like a ton of bricks if it doesn’t come off?”
England lost their opening two matches against the Springboks. “I’m not in the squad for the first Test in Johannesburg. We’re leading 24–3 after 20 minutes before conceding five tries and losing 42–39. Eddie promotes me to the bench for the second Test in Bloemfontein.
“The Boks are in full control when I get a run out with 15 minutes to go, and while I make a few things happen, we end up losing 23–12, making it six defeats on the spin.”
The loss forced Jones’ hand, the coach turning to Cipriani in England’s hour of need. “It’s my first Test start for ten years and I’m sure I’m going to make a difference.
“It’s not exactly my kind of conditions – ‘Biblical’ is how one journalist describes the downpour at Newlands – but we just do what’s needed. Ben Youngs mostly box-kicks, meaning I don’t get the ball much. But I make my tackles and chase my kicks, and when the chance comes to impose myself on the game, I take it.
“When I receive the ball with nine minutes to go, I scan, see the space and execute, all in a split second. I don’t have time to think, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’
“I’m acting on well-practised instinct. When the ball leaves my foot, I think I’ve overdone it, but Jonny May, who’s like shit off a shovel, reaches the ball first and dots it down just before it dribbles out of play.
“We end up winning 25-10 to give the tour a veneer of respectability. But sitting in the changing room afterwards, it doesn’t feel like we’re a band of brothers, it feels like 23 blokes who have just completed individual missions. Only later does it occur to me: I might have just helped save Eddie’s job…”
A few months later, Cipriani was omitted from the England squad for the 2018 autumn internationals. “Eddie says the decision is 100 per cent based on form and that I’m probably the fourth best fly-half in the country. Eddie keeps banging on about my lack of work rate off the ball, but who picks a fly half based on their work rate off the ball?
“As it stands, I’m the best decision-maker in the country, maybe the world, and as Eddie’s seen with his own eyes, I only need one chance to win a game. It’s not an honest evaluation of what’s happening. I’m even starting to wonder if shadowy figures at the RFU are leaning on him.
“Eddie calls me and says I need to be better at going to the line. I say, ‘Eddie, I’m the best in the world at going to the line.’ If Eddie doesn’t want to pick me, cool. But just be honest about it. Say you want to play the game a certain way and I don’t fit in with it.”
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