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Thursday, 25 February 2010

Cipriani, the debate goes on all over the Planet of Rugby

HERE'S what I posted on the absorbing Planet Rugby Forum this morning: "Sorry to start a new thread, but I've had emails from Planet Rugby posters asking for my response. Have read the arguments since Daily Mail article yesterday and thought I'd offer this.
Chris Foy is a good bloke, a football writer who worked hard to replace Peter Jackson when he retired as the Mail's rugby guru. Like Jacko, he is not the kind of journalist who simply does what the RFU asks.
If the instances he quotes about Cipriani aren't true he will be sued. He must have had a good source... or two. But make no mistake, this is a direct reponse from Martin Johnson and Co to Cipriani's quotes when he decided to go to Melbourne.
Without question Cipriani has burned his bridges with the current regime at all levels, particularly with his open support of Wales (Gwlad readers will love that)... but I suspect by then Cipriani had already given up on an England future under MJ.
Here's my view: Cips is a new generation rugby player. Ambitious, selfish, impatient. He doesn't fit in with Martin Johnson's regime or MJ's idea of what a rugby player should be. But that doesn't make him a talentless twat, just a petulant fool. Football puts up with such characters if they have the talent, cricket does too (you should have seen Kevin Pietersen batting against selector Ashley Giles in nets on tour in December, and then there's Craig Bellamy).
Given that Shaun Edwards is his coach at Wasps, Cipriani wouldn't have got away with the way he behaved with the Saxons at club level. Edwards would have torn him off a strip. Inside the club, Cipriani is respected for working hard... most of the time.
The fact remains that Cipriani, after his treatment at the hands of a very mediocre England set-up, had no choice other than to pursue his career overseas at what he perceives as the top level. If he succeeds at Super 15, he will have proved his point to MJ and the doubters.
I still think it's a brave move, the kind of thing top sportsmen (and ordinary people in all walks of life) do when the road ahead is blocked.
Whether Cipriani has the talent to comeback with his status restored after tales like this, I'm not sure.
What I do know is that Cipriani was picked out as a major talent at every level as he progressed through the ranks. I hope he makes it in Melbourne. It's a big ask.
But rugby needs to find a place for the Big Charlie rugby player to survive. Cipriani, like Stuart Barnes and Gavin Henson, believes he can behave as he does and win our respect on talent alone.
These are just the ramblings of a sports fanatic, I'm not saying I know better than anybody else on here. But for the good of rugby I hope Cipriani is the toast of the Super15 when he goes Down Under. I have my doubts."

It was written in response to this piece from Chris Foy in the Daily Mail yesterday:

"Danny Cipriani was hailed as the saviour of English rugby when he broke into the national side as a prodigiously talented 20-year-old.

Two years later, his hopes of a long international career lie in tatters after he broke two of the commandments in England - you don't cheer for Wales and you don't mock the living legend that is Martin Johnson.

Cipriani, 22, has long been seen as an outsider in the rugby world - his love of the celebrity life and his relationship with model girlfriend Kelly Brook, 31, were met with derision in many quarters.

But he has gone a step too far by cheering for Wales against England, and mocking national coach and World Cup winner Johnson.

Critics say he is a traitor, and after his vocal support for England's historic rivals was reported back, it is understood he has no chance of playing for his country's first team while Johnson is in charge.

Cipriani last week announced a move from London club Wasps to the Melbourne Rebels in Australia for £170,000 a year, which scuppered plans for an immediate future in the England squad.

But it was his behaviour earlier this month while surrounded by fellow players from the England Saxons, the country's 'B' team, which sealed his fate.

Last night a source close to the England squad said: 'Cipriani was in Italy with the Saxons preparing for their game against the Italians.

'The senior team were playing Wales at Twickenham, so the Saxons got together in front of a TV in their hotel to watch.

'Danny was shouting at the screen throughout - in support of the Welsh.

'And when Adam Jones scored for Wales, Danny was jumping up and down in celebration.

'He was also making barbed comments whenever the cameras showed Johnson in the stand.

'The rest of the team were appalled. They thought he was behaving like a complete twit.'

Some observers will see this latest debacle as simply the culmination of the young star's increasingly arrogant behaviour.

Former England captain Will Carling recently said he had decided not to become Cipriani's manager, adding: 'I do not believe Danny's focus is on playing for England'.

Cipriani's high profile makes him popular with sponsors - he has a reputed £1.2million deal with Adidas - but it is not appreciated by many in the rugby world.

Two years ago, he was axed from the England team because he was seen leaving a nightclub two days before a match against Scotland.

In October 2008, Cipriani was punched by Wasps team-mate Josh Lewsey during training, and other squad members are said to have scrawled disparaging comments next to his name in the changing rooms.

One Wasps source said last year: 'There are a lot of Danny Cipriani types in football - but they stick out like a sore thumb in rugby. It does not go down well.'"

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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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Friday, 19 February 2010

A Rebel yell for Cipriani... the naked truth about Danny, Melbourne and Martin Johnson

DANNY CIPRIANI confirmed today what this blog has known for a couple of weeks now - that's he's off to join the new Super 15 side, Melbourne Rebels.

When the link was first suggested last month, England boss Martin Johnson immediately said Cipriani would stand no chance of selection if he went to Australia. Big deal. Johnson has succeeded in utterly destroying the Wasps' fly-half's career while creating a deeply unimpressive side around a series of fly-halves far older and less talented than Cipriani, still just 22.

Johnno's tried his former Leicester pals Andy Goode and Toby Flood, and has ended up with fellow 2003 World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson playing at No10 in the current Six Nations. And the side hardly sparkled with Wilko's fading boot at the fulcrum in Italy last Sunday. Cipriani, the progressive choice, finds himself demoted to second choice for the Saxons.

Apparently there are tensions in the camp over Dangerous Danny. He dates Kelly Brook, he sometimes goes out at night, he's trendy and often neglects to shave. Yes, he takes risks, as our picture shows. Not quite Johnno's cup of tea.

Quite rightly, Cipriani has gone off to improve himself in a standard of rugby certainly better than the Guinness Premiership and arguably better than the Heineken Cup, which Wasps failed to qualify for this year.

Cipriani said: "I am still young enough to go away and experience something completely different. Leaving Wasps is very hard, this is my home."

"I see this move as the next step in my career and would never rule out coming back to play in England.

"If I did, the first place I would look at is Wasps, and we have already talked about that as a possibility for the future.

"I believe in the coaches and the players here and it will be very difficult to leave, but the decision has been made easier by having the support of (director of rugby) Tony Hanks and (head coach) Shaun Edwards."

And in a direct response to Johnson, he said: "I have been given no indication that I am pushing for a place with England at the moment.

"So it is up to me to ensure I am in contention in the future by challenging myself in new realms. I want to be the best player I can be."

A quick history of Cipriani's seven-cap international career reveals he came into England contention when he won the Heineken Cup with Wasps in 2007 and helped win the Premiership in 2008.

After two caps as a replacement when Brian Ashton was head coach, he had to wait for his first start after being dropped for going out in Mayfair after midnight a few days before the Six Nations game against Scotland.

But when his first Test start did come, at the expense of Wilkinson, Cipriani destroyed Ireland. Then came that horrendous ankle injury against Bath at Adams Park in May, 2008 - I was there, you could hear the screams echoing across the ground.

After a quicker-than-expected rehabilitation, Cipriani looked all set to resume duties at fly-half for England but then came the fall out with Johnson amid reports of a behind-closed-doors rift. He wasn't even picked for the summer tour to Argentina, despite the galaxy of stars rendered unavailable by the Lions tour to South Africa.

Quite how Melbourne will do in the new, expanded Super 14 - which features regional franchises from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, is anybody's guess. Perth, another Aussie Rules dominated area in Australia, have struggled to make headway. But the Rebels will be led by no-nonsense former Wallaby boss Rod Macqueen and Cipriani insists: "The chance to play in a completely different tournament against different players at this time in my career will help me develop on and off the field."

Wasps, who have also lost England wing Paul Sackey to Toulon this week, issued a statement saying Cipriani leaves "with the club's understanding and support" adding he "made clear his ambition to return to England in the future and a return to Wasps down the line has already been discussed".

Wasps boss Tony Hanks said: "Obviously we are disappointed that Danny is leaving, especially as he has worked hard on a return to form on the back of a couple of nasty injuries. However, knowing his reasons are based on rugby and personal development, we as a Club support his decision.

“Working with him for the last few weeks around this decision, we have looked at it more as a Wasp going on a sabbatical."

Me? I remember when the rugby world was your oyster under Brian Ashton three years ago when we met in Bath to chat about your glowing future. I say good luck Danny. The Super 15 is a tough old slog, lots of travelling, plenty of world class players. I hope you dominate the lot of them. And force Johnson to change his mind about you before the 2011 World Cup. If he lasts that long.

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Saturday, 6 February 2010

A tale of two World Cup captains: Johnson finds salvation, Terry seeks redemption

NICE to escape the John Terry saga for ball of a different shape today. Started off on Sky News talking to Will Carling and Gareth Edwards outside Twickenham before the Six Nations opener between England and Wales. Then watched a cracking 30-17 England win after scoring in Goldhill Baptist's 5-2 win on Chalfont St Peter common (I don't score often these days, sorry).
Yup, Nick Powell and I were on Sky News this morning, daring to put our nation's rugby hopes ahead of the tawdry tale surrounding our football captain before the World Cup in June.
And they were good old sporting stories too - Ricky Flutey's injury has seen Toby Flood drafted in at centre and Wales have big problems up front. If England hadn't won this one, as Will Carling twittered me this morning "the vultures will be circling" around World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson in his bid to become a valid international coach.
It nearly happened at 20-17 with eight minutes left when James Hook ran through half the England side to score and then converted. But Delon Armitage produced a vital interception, Toby Flood and Matt Tait ran the ball and James Haskell ran in for his second try and it was game over, Johnson saved.
And erm... talking about World Cup winning captains, Nick picked up on The Sun front page on Sky News this morning. There was Terry, a few hours after being told by Fabio Capello he was not longer England captain, saying: "If they're a one percent chance of me being World Cup captain, I'll fight tooth and nail for it."
Terry was signed up as The Sun's World Cup columnist a month ago. Little did they know their sister paper, the News of the World, were on the verge of exposing his affair with Wayne Terry's former missus Vanessa Perroncel.
Terry of course, has no chance of being our captain when the side flies to Rustenburg on June 1 before their opening Group C game at Bafokeng Sports Palace before the opening game against the USA on June 11.
Especially if there's any truth in the Daily Mirror's front page splash this morning, which suggests Terry paid Perroncel £800,000 to end her bid to sell the story.
No doubt there will be more revelations tomorrow before the big game between Chelsea and Arsenal. But for now let's just concentrate on England's epic rugby win. It feels more wholesome.

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Friday, 20 November 2009

Why the All Blacks can't be too Shaw at Twickenham tomorrow

IF there's one man who can inspire England's lacklustre troops at Twickenham tomorrow, it's ageless Wasps lock Simon Shaw.
Did I say ageless? He's 36, barely two years younger than the under-pressure England manager Martin Johnson, who has recalled the Nairobi-born 6ft 8in giant for the last Autumn showdown against New Zealand tomorrow.
Some might see Shaw as Johnson's last throw of the dice. He's only just recovered from a fractured metatarsal and has played just two club games this season.
But there's a lot more going on beneath the surface; things to prove, a lifetime of frustration to put aside as Shaw wins his 53rd England cap since his 1996 debut against Italy - we all know it should be closer to three figures.
Under the previous England regime of Brian Ashton in Bath four years ago, Shaw showed me the gnarled hands, bent and broken like a jib-saw puzzle by years of line-out leaping and ruck rummaging. And while he did, he talked of how he was a better lock than World Cup-winning captain Johnson, who had not long retired at the time.
"I just didn't vocalise the way he did," Shaw grinned, "But I always felt I was a better player. But for years, nobody else did."
Clearly vocalising comes easier now, after helping England to a World Cup final in 2007 and starring on his debut for the Lions in South Africa last summer. He's released a book and gone public with his feelings... and after what he did to the Springboks, quite a few agree that, of the two giants, super Shaw may just have the edge over world-beater Johnson.
After defeat against Australia and a distinctly unimpressive 16-9 win over Argentina last week, Shaw now gets the chance to save Johnson's job.
He recognises the irony and shrugs off this week's controversial slamming of England's coaching set-up by his old Wasps pal Josh Lewsey.From beneath the second row forward's traditionally heavy brow, Shaw - who spent his formative years at beachside club Pirates in Dunedin a mere 17 years ago, growls: "I've never come across a bad New Zealand side. Never mind technical plans, we need to go at them with aggression and take them on from the kick-off. There is no point holding back and trying to contain All Blacks. If you do that, you'll be beaten.
"New Zealand bring a physicality but I'm comfortable with that. It's on a par with the Lions in South Africa this year.
"There's a lot of fire and energy in the squad, I sensed it as soon as I arrived. The boys have been criticised despite the fact they beat Argentina, so they are keen to play again."
In 2004, just after the Ben Kay/Martin Johnson partnership had won the World Cup for Clive Woodward's side, Shaw lasted just 10 minutes of the second tTest against the All Blacks at Eden Park (pictured) before he was sent off for putting a knee into the back of Keith Robinson.
There's plenty of baggage but Shaw says: "You can prove a lot of people wrong. There's no reason to shy away from it, it's the last game of the autumn series, it's the All Blacks.
"We need to be very aggressive and confrontational - take it to the All Blacks."
Shaw's old fashioned approach may even work against a bunch of New Zealanders who finished a distant second to an average Springbok side (beaten on their current European tour by Leicester and Saracens, not to mention France) in the Tri-Nations this year.
Shaw even admits he doesn't know "an awful lot" about Brad Thorn, who lines up and line-outs against him tomorrow.
He just says: "Any time you face the All Blacks it's going to be an incredibly hard game and you have to reach for your reserves and every ounce of energy to beat them.."
You can expect at least that from England's oldest player tomorrow. And an important hug with the manager if he pulls it off.

Labels: autumn tests, brian ashton, joe worsley, , new zealand, simon shaw

Friday, 13 November 2009

Dodge ball for England could end Argie-bargie

MARTIN JOHNSON is ready to dodge the flak from last week’s opening Autumn Test defeat against Australia — by calling up the man known as Dodge.
Paul Hodgson, the 27-year-old London Irish scrum-half signed from Bristol in 2004, comes in for Harlequins No9 Danny Care, 22, with a reputation for quick passing and fast talking.
The lad who started his career aged seven at Sutton & Epsom RFC in 1989, wins his fifth cap against Argentina tomorrow saying: “It is something I do naturally — I don’t think there are many quiet scrum-halves around! While the ball is in the air, you can help with communication.
“We call it small talk. It helps the boys with the little details to make the system work. We want to play with momentum.
“It’s something I do for my Exiles, and I enjoy it and relish it. If I can take some of the thinking time off the forwards in front of me, it helps them out.
“It is easier now than when I was first in the England squad because you don’t mind shouting out commands.
“As a scrum-half, you are always trying to emphasise to everyone the finer points of how the team is trying to play.”
England team manager Johnson explained: “Paul is a bit more experienced than Danny. He is very, very good at getting the tempo in the game, which is what we want to do.
“He brings a lot on to the field in terms of communication and leadership. There is a “generalship” about the way he plays at London Irish.
“It will be more difficult this weekend because he is not playing in the comfort of his club environment but we have confidence in him. What he brings is a real maturity.”
Hodgson becomes Jonny Wilkinson’s 10th half-back partner, adding: “Jonny welcomes feedback. For him to be so approachable is fantastic and helps the players. I am rooming with him, so that helps as well.”
Wilkinson chips in: ‘There are not enough players like ‘Dodge’ who commentate on the game and it is the ideal approach.
“Talking like that keeps you on your toes and that is how Dodge plays. He is always ready for the next thing and it is because his mind is always working.
“As a 10, you need to know what your nine is thinking so I have never been in a situation where I have been put out by someone else talking at me. It can never happen enough.’
Mike Ford, the defence coach, admits: “For me, Paul is like an extra coach out there on the field defensively
“He is the best talker in the team in terms of telling players where to go and what to do. He never shuts up. His enthusiasm and the energy he brings in defence is fantastic.”
But perhaps the most important advice comes from World Cup-winning centre Will Greenwood who twittered: “England might change but unless they change their outlook and style it will end the same way.”
Follow nealcol on throughout the Autumn internationals.

Labels: chelsea neal collins world cup,

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Haskell starts at Twickenham... as predicted

Yesterday I twittered James Haskell to tell him Lawrence Dallaglio is backing him to start for England against Argentina on Saturday at Twickenham. He turned things around when he came on for Leicester's Jordan Crane against Australia last week, full of energy and endeavour. Today, even better news... confirmation of his place in the first 15 despite leaving Wasps for Stade Francais in the summer.
Here's the story I wrote for the paper this morning:
YESTERDAY James Haskell was so miffed by the weather in not-so-sunny Surrey, he called for a radical move to summer rugby.
Today, he’ll be officially told he’s back in the England starting line-up for Saturday’s clash with Argentina at Twickenham, where the Windsor-born 6ft 4in loose forward will revel in the mud of a British autumn.
Through the mists of a winter’s morning at England’s Bagshot base yesterday, jameshaskell grumbled on www.twitter-com: “Raining and miserable at Pennyhill Park, but mood is good. Forwards and team session this morning.
“I vote we make rugby a summer sport, we would only have to compete with cricket. Bigger crowds, better games and more hospitality.”
Within hours twitters were flying and Haskell accepted: “Okay, taking some heat for my summer chat. Didn’t think about the hard grounds. But we live in England and the hardest it gets is medium soft.”
And, as news of his selection for Saturday began to permeate the England camp, that was soon followed by: “Keep it winter. Too many good arguments. Hard pitches are the main reason.”
And just to make things perfect for the No8 who moved from Wasps to Stade Francais last summer, his old Wellington College pal Paul Doran-Jones is in the squad too.
Best not to mention the pair of them were suspended over a video camera incident at one of Britain’s poshest public schools in 2003.
England boss Martin Johnson had little choice in calling up Gloucester’s Doran-Jones. With David Wilson and David Barnes forced out by injury, there are no other front-row options.
Bath veteran Duncan Bell and Tim Payne of Wasps will start at tight-head and loose-head with the versatile Doran-Jones as cover on both sides.
Northampton’s Dylan Hartley will start between them at hooker, with World Cup-winner Steve Thompson reverting to the bench.
Graham Rowntree, England’s scrum coach, said: “I like what I see in Paul. I’ve been watching him all season, I think he’s a true prospect for the future. He’s good at a lot of things and I give him my full backing.
“He’s good enough and that’s what we’ll tell him. Paul has a great attitude, he’s fitted in well since he’s been with us.”
Jordan Crane, replaced at No 8 by Haskell during the defeat against Australia last Saturday, has been told he can go back to train with Leicester this weekend.
And the full team? Probable: Monye (Harlequins); Cueto (Sale), Hipkiss (Leicester), Geraghty (Northampton), Banahan (Bath); Wilkinson (Toulon), Hodgson (London Irish); Payne (Wasps), Hartley (Northampton), Bell (Bath); Borthwick (Saracens, capt), Deacon; Croft (both Leicester), Haskell (Stade Francais), Moody (Leicester).
Replacements: Doran-Jones (Gloucester), Thompson (Brive), Lawes (Northampton), Worsley (Wasps), Care (Harlequins), Goode (Brive), Erinle (Biarritz).
England v Argentina,Saturday, live on Sky Sports 2, from 2pm
ELITE squad players sent back to clubs: D Strettle (Harlequins), B Foden (Northampton), M Tait (Sale Sharks), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), S Armitage (London Irish), D Barnes (Bath), G Chuter (Leicester), J Crane (Leicester), B Kay (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath).

Labels: argentina, australia, james haskell, , , rugby, rugby union,