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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Nine points and moving words from Cipriani

IF you were sad enough to spend most of your weekend on the rugby forums, you might think, among the abuse and foul language, Danny Cipriani was a waste of space. That he deserved to be consigned, at 22, to the rugby's international dustbin.
Yes, the same Danny Cipriani who booted Wasps to a 9-0 win over Saracens in the Guinness Premiership today. Okay, it was no classic. There were better sporting events over the weekend. Manchester United's 3-1 defeat against Everton, Amy Williams's skeleton gold medal in Vancouver, the all-British final at the World Matchplay golf, England's penultimate over defeat against Pakistan in Dubai, and Chiltern Under 15s epic 5-5 draw at chilly Chinnor this morning.
But there was Cipriani, hours after the official announcement of his move to Melbourne Rebels and the Super 15 at the end of the season, coolly booting his side to victory at Adams Park.
I suggested in my blog on Thursday Cipriani might be a better choice than the fading Jonny Wilkinson for the England No10 shirt after Wilko's uncertain performance against Italy a week ago.
That if England coach Martin Johnson had kept him in his plans rather than demoting him to the Saxons bench, he might just have developed a bit of confidence after his serious ankle injury. That he may have become a realistic option for the 2011 World Cup as he is eight years younger than the great World Cup winner Wilko.
This led to copious abuse and explusion from rugby's internet following, for reasons that are hard to comprehend - bitterness and envy have always surrounded the youngster whose mum drives a taxi and father has returned to Trinidad, who needed a scholarship to attend the Oratory School in Reading. Oh, and he goes out with Kelly Brook. That really makes the sad anoraks uptight as the hurl their crude expletives around on what are supposed to be open, democratic forums. I kid you not, there are some unpleasant types out there.
As Wasps move into the play-off positions, just above London Irish, Cipriani attempted to explain his move Down Under in the Sunday Times.
He said: "There has been so much negativity surrounding me, from coaches, pundits, all sorts of others. It has been depressing.
"I have never made any secret of the fact that I want to have a career with England. I have now lost 15 caps I could have won and I could have improved so much by now if I had been given the chance. The best way to get away from all the negativity is to go to Melbourne.
"My rugby has made me depressed and I have got to get back to feeling good about myself and back to being called confident, not arrogant."
Crucially, here's his verdict on England coach Martin Johnson: "It is fair to say that I would have liked to be treated with a little more sympathy by people in the game. I would liked to have spoken to Martin a lot more. People write things about me every day and sometimes it would have been good to set the record straight.
"I was interested in listening to Alex Ferguson discussing Cristiano Ronaldo. I am not for a moment suggesting that I am in his class as a sportsman but he was saying that every person in a team is different and they have to be treated differently – not singled out for special attention, just different."
Spot on Danny. Given Johnson's precarious situation at the helm - the World Cup winner never coached at club level before his elevation to England boss - Cipriani may yet get the chance to play at the World Cup in New Zealand. Under a new coach.
Cipriani's parting shot: "I will be 23 when it happens, hopefully at a peak. I can be back for all the training."

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Saturday, 19 December 2009

When sunny Centurion pales into insignificance. Come on Arsenal!

SOMETIMES the ebb and flow of Test cricket can get to you. Just as England wilted today on day four of the first Test at sun-soaked Centurion, so this journalist finally lost heart.
I went back to my dad's to recuperate when Hashim Amla passed the 200-ball mark. The bearded one, unlikely to be sponsored by Gillette any time soon, was simply too good for England's attack and took the game beyond us with a magnificent century.
Aided by AB De Villiers and Mark Boucher, a torrid day ended with Morne Morkel slapping Stuart Broad for 14 runs off an over. Then the declaration and a grinning Graeme Smith saw Morkel produce an unplayable ball which Andrew Strauss had to touch to Boucher and England, at 11-1, remain 353 runs from victory going into the final day.
The good news? It's absolutely hissing down out there. After four sizzling days, the tropical rains have returned. England may yet escape with a soggy draw.
Meanwhile, this being South Africa, I was treated to three successive games of live football. First Liverpool went down 2-0 at Portsmouth - my dad's team - then Manchester United, playing without a defence (they're all injured, an argumentative Sir Alex Ferguson ended up with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher at centre-back) were thrashed 3-0 and now Arsenal are attempting to reverse the string of giants killings against Hull.
And word reaches me via my son's text that Manchester City's Mark Hughes, fresh from a rousing 4-3 win over Sunderland, is about to be replaced by Italian Roberto Mancini. Criminal. Hughes is one of Britain's great managers. But give the foreign billionaires ownership of our clubs and this is what happens. We'll end up like South Africa, with a string of international bosses who can barely speak the language!
Sometimes the cut-and-thrust of Premier League football and the freezing pre-Christmas jousting outweights the lure of sun-drenched cricket. Especially when England are losing their grip on a Test. This is one of those days.

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