Cipriani’s England recall shows he is back on the right track

RUGBY ROUND-UP: Two old boys of Whitgift School were named today in the England side to face New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday, with a third player with strong local connections, former Warlingham youth player Chris Robshaw, captaining the team.

Danny Cipriani: England recall six years after his last Test appearance

Danny Cipriani: England recall six years after his last Test appearance

Danny Cipriani pulls on an England shirt for the first time in nearly six years, though only as a reserve fly-half for the first Test against the world champions, while fellow Old Whit Marland Yarde is set to win his third cap on the wing.

Cipriani, 26, and 22-year-old Yarde – who both won Daily Mail Cup national schools finals winners’ medals when at Whitgift, though in different age groups and with different school generations – could not face a sterner challenge than what will line up against them at Eden Park.

The All Blacks have not lost a game at Eden Park in 20 years. The inexperienced England side, which has been somewhat thrown together in the first week after the domestic club season, will be up against a team which has won their last 30 matches at home. And England have not managed a Test win in New Zealand in 11 years.

That last victory, though, was in 2003, just months before England went on to win the World Cup. And while privately England’s head coach, Stuart Lancaster, holds no illusions about Saturday’s outcome, he and his squad are now clearly focusing on building towards the 2015 World Cup which is to be staged in England.

Which is why the selection of Cipriani, who was only 20 when he made his international debut, is so significant. Hailed as a more exciting successor to Jonny Wilkinson when he was first picked, after scoring 49pts in seven international appearances, Cipriani became too notorious for his liking of the playboy lifestyle, with his various glamour girlfriends. He also suffered serious injury and loss of form and confidence, and it has taken two seasons at Sale for Cipriani to re-establish himself in the England reckoning.

Even now, though, he is only perhaps fourth-choice fly-half playmaker at best, behind Owen Farrell and George Ford (it is only coincidental that both No10s happen to have their fathers on the England coaching staff…), and on Saturday behind Gloucester’s Freddie Burns, who starts the match. However brilliant a performance Cipriani might put in, if he gets on the paddock even early in the second half, there’s every chance that the All Blacks will have already put the game out of sight.

Maybe six years ago, a more impetuous Cipriani might have found the situation intolerable. Not now.

Cipriani enjoyed the best season of his career for Sale this winter, and offered much of the credit to the work he has done with coach Steve Black, the man who mentored Wilkinson to become the world’s best fly-half.

“I’ve got a good stable of people around me including Steve Black who has been a really big help over the past six months with me. He still works with Jonny over in Toulon and I see him once a week and we talk almost every other day and having someone like Steve around really does help,” Cipriani said in interview before heading off to New Zealand last weekend.

“Steve acts like a mentor and it’s about life, it’s about the game, about how you prepare, about becoming the best athlete you can be – it’s about all sorts really to make sure that you are putting yourself in the best position to perform the best you can each week.

Back in the grove: Danny Cirpriani the last time he played for England, in 2008

Back in the grove: Danny Cipriani the last time he played for England, in 2008

“It’s about having the confidence and the vibe. Now when I’m on the field I feel a lot more authoritative than I did last year.

“You’ve got the controllables and then there are things outside your control and maybe sometimes perhaps I’ve let things frustrate me with things you can’t control a bit too much.

“That’s a key part of what Blackie does in terms of clearing my mind and being able to focus on what you can control. He is incredible in how he helps.

“Working and talking with Steve is helping to clear my mind of clutter and gives you a certain focus so that you are ready for the task in hand.”

Cipriani suggests that the guidance he has received has also brought more stability to his off-the-field activities, suggesting that the days of his regular visits to London’s bright lights, celebrity girlfriends, 16-venue pub crawls and accidents with buses in city centres might be a thing of the past for a man who was once regarded as the most talented half-back ever to pull on an England shirt.

“I think things are going a lot better – both personally and with the team,” he said. “I learnt a lot in terms of how to prepare myself and what I need to do to become the best that I can be and be back to where I was. And also to keep myself in a calm state of mind and to be very positive.

“I probably could have handled it better and prepared better and the end of last season I made the decision that whatever was thrown at me, I was ready to handle.”

That close encounter with a Leeds bus during a club pub crawl last year left Cipriani with a cruciate ligament injury and a lot to ponder. “It reminds you that it’s a short career. I reckon I’ve probably got nine or 10 years left in me, so it’s about making these next years ahead of me the best.”

Getting a recall to the England team probably shows that Cipriani’s on the right track back.

Some of the girls who gave rugby a try at Warlingham last weekend

Some of the girls who gave rugby a try at Warlingham last weekend

Meanwhile, at grassroots level, Robshaw’s first club, Warlingham, staged a “Pitch Up and Play” initiative at their Hamsey Green on Saturday specifically for girl rugby players, attracting a turn-out of more than 20.

The girls were coached by Warlingham’s head of youth rugby, Frank Wright, and community coach Harry Blain, and went through a number of basic drills followed by an
energetic game of touch rugby.

“Warlingham is very keen to build on this morning’s session and develop a regular team for girls,” Wright said.

Warlingham will have a full club training evening every Thursday from 7pm to include senior players and both youth and girls sessions, covering both fitness and rugby skills. “Everyone is welcome to come along and give it a try if they’re interested,” Wright said.

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