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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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