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Hugh Godwin | Columnist Index
Hugh Godwin is the rugby union writer for Independent on Sunday in the UK, whom he joined in 2000, the same year he became a regular contributor to Scrum.com.
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Does Cipriani want to be adored?
Hugh Godwin
May 10, 2011
Rebels fly-half Danny Cipriani takes to the field, Melbourne Rebels v Hurricanes, Super Rugby, AAMI Stadium, Melbourne, Australia, March 25, 2011
Danny Cipriani has found himself in trouble again © Getty Images
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"I don't have to sell my soul/he's already in me/I don't need to sell my soul/he's already in me…"

All you turn-of-the-90s Indie disciples will know Ian Brown's words from I Wanna Be Adored and it only took a retrospective programme on television the other night to send them spinning in my head. Bliss from two decades (two decades!) ago.

When an email from the Melbourne Rebels, about Danny Cipriani, arrived on my desktop with a triangle's tinkle, an unlikely connection was made. There have been a few emails of late. This was the one that said: "We've lost confidence in Danny Cipriani." A scratched record stuck on the same note sprang to mind (those of you not born in the 90s may have to ask what that means).

Just as with the Stone Roses' lyrics, we can interpret Cipriani's behaviour in different ways, depending on our own experiences and opinions. I tend to think Brown was acknowledging the devil in him, and I wonder if 'Cips' sees the same when he looks in the mirror after one of the nights out that he seems unable to stay away from, and that have upset the Rebels (rebellious much more by name than nature, it appears) so much.

I know Cipriani loosely, which is to say I interviewed him by phone when he was 17, and again in person and by phone last year, a few months before he set off for Australia. In between, I'd seen him play all his matches for England and perhaps a dozen or more for Wasps, and bumped into him as you do as a London-based rugby reporter at press conferences and dinners.

I wouldn't claim to know his innermost thoughts or what drives and motivates him. Does he want to be adored? Is there an inner Beelzebub who chooses wrongly when he is faced with those little or large decisions that crop up in all our lives and careers? Who among us has got every one of those decisions right?

This much I know. When Cipriani was still at school he spoke confidently - in fact, it was with an almost disturbing certainty - of playing for England. It rang an alarm bell, softly. The majority of rugby-playing lads at that age speak of hope and ambition and how they might get there by working hard. The boy Danny was beyond that. His expectations were high.

Doubtless there are many dreamers, or kids with ideas above their station, wheedled out of sport at a young age. They become wildly successful business entrepreneurs or mumbling tramps on the street, or whatever. Cipriani carried on, became a first-team regular earlier than expected at Wasps due to others' injuries, made the England squad for training before the 2007 World Cup and was capped the following year. Some important developments with his ankle injury and being omitted, then picked by Brian Ashton have been noted in this column before.

As time went on his behaviour has not been spectacularly outrageous. Compared to binge-drinking footballers such as Paul Gascoigne and the late George Best - more obviously self-destructive souls - Cipriani is a clean-living lad. He has trained and been diligent enough to win caps for England and play at the top level of the club game.

Still, when he told me a year ago of his expectations of Melbourne, that alarm bell pealed softly once more. There was a surreal air about the plan. It was fine to talk about playing in Super Rugby, and taking on Dan Carter and all those good things, but it was based too much on a whimsical idea of what it might do for Cipriani, rather than what he could do for the team.

 
"Professional teams will not put up with someone who cannot or will not fit in."
 

The interview, which was at Wasps' training ground, finished with a few questions left unasked and he promised to carry on later in the day on the phone. I had no expectations of him doing so, but, sure enough, he rang. "It's Danny".

We talked for almost an hour, he was incautiously critical about Martin Johnson's management and selection, and he also said that if circumstances changed he would come back from Melbourne a year early. I intervened to ask if he really wanted to be quoted saying that, before he had even set foot in Australia.

So this week we read in the Daily Mail that Cipriani's career is in a downward spiral. He has packed a lot in, but surely he is too young to be packing it in. It would be sad, although I am sure many people would say 'serve him right'. Rugby by its nature spits out the self-interested. Oh yes, there are Extra B XVs the world over who grudgingly put up with Punchy Dave, or Pissed-up Paul, because they can forget about his excesses between matches. But professional teams will not put up with someone who cannot or will not fit in.

I used to wonder whether Gascoigne might have found a happier way if he had joined Manchester United young, and come under Alex Ferguson's influence rather than moving to Tottenham and being given a freer rein by Terry Venables. Then again, Best played under Matt Busby and it made no difference. We wait to see whether anyone in paid rugby - that noted player mentor, Ian McGeechan at Bath, just possibly - could help to pull Cipriani round.

Many's the rock star who found they could not live on the edge without toppling over it. Maybe Cipriani is just one of those people who needs the edge to make the everyday worthwhile. Every now and again, the devil in him wins. You sense Gavin Henson and Andy Powell are cut from the same cloth. But if the game can find no way of keeping them happy, is it their loss or ours?

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