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Page last updated at 07:43 GMT, Sunday, 16 March 2008

Cipriani lives up to the hype

By James Standley
BBC Sport at Twickenham

It is a story that has been written many times over the past 10 years after England victories.

Danny Cipriani
Cipriani kicked 18 points on his international debut

You know it; the one about the England fly-half and his impeccable kicking display, his superb reading of the game, such a commanding presence in the number 10 shirt.

You know who it is about as well; the lad who was awake at four o'clock on Saturday morning running the game through his head, such is his desire to be the very best, not just for himself but for England too.

You must have cottoned on to whom it is by now.

It's that lad who made a searing 50-yard break in the outside centre channel, the one who visits clubs frequented by rock star Pete Doherty, the one happy to call established international forwards "lazy" and lay down the law in a pre-match team talk on the occasion of his first start.

Ah. Not Jonny Wilkinson then.


With England's hero on the bench after being dropped for only the second time in his career, Danny Cipriani took the chance to show everyone just what all the hype has been about.

The 20-year-old Wasps fly-half had a superb first start for England, with his calm decision-making as impressive as his other contributions.

Some of his kicking out of hand was prodigious, his passing enabled its target to run onto the ball at pace and his goal-kicking was a Wilkinson-esque 100%.

But while there were similarities with Wilkinson there were differences too.

He's got a lot of confidence, edging on the side of arrogance sometimes, but I've not got a problem with that at all

England captain Phil Vickery

Whereas Wilkinson has a clear edge on the tyro defensively, he could never have produced the long-range run Cipriani made late in the first half, when only a last-gasp tackle prevented him making a clean break down the outside centre channel.

There were other choice moments as well, not least an instantaneous kick back over a line-out into the "wrong" corner, and the sublime disguise which enabled Jamie Noon to scythe through to within inches of a try in the first half.

In fact his biggest error came in his post-match TV interview, and his first words to the assembled press pack later saw him apologise for using the "F" word (not a word you can imagine Jonny using even behind closed doors) because of over-excitement.

The improbably youthful figure that bounded up the stairs and confidently chatted away to the media was still bubbling an hour after the game.

"I have thought about that game millions of times in my head and it was just a dream to be there. It was an honour for me to be there today," he said, after repeatedly praising the efforts of his pack.

Not every 20-year-old would have the confidence to give a pre-match team-talk, but Cipriani explained it was merely part of the fly-half role as he sees it.

"When it comes to my position you can't really think too much about age and this week I have been very vocal with the forwards," he said.

"You tell the forwards what you want from them, because once you tell them what you want, they are going to give it to you."

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Watch Cipriani in action against Ireland

For coach Brian Ashton his display was manna from heaven after a tortuous couple of weeks for the pair.

Ashton axed Cipriani 48 hours before he was set to make his first start, against Scotland, after he was snapped coming out of a Mayfair nightclub after midnight (50 Dover Street, which Babyshambles star Doherty was asked to leave this week for flouting the smoking ban).

The decision to start Cipriani in place of Wilkinson a week later could have backfired horribly, and although Ashton was clearly delighted he was keen to keep a lid on expectations.

"In the last 25 minutes of the first half I thought his performance, in terms of the balance, of playing with ball in hand, of kicking for field position, was excellent," said Ashton.

"He'll be pretty pleased with his performance, and we're reasonably pleased as well, but the guys around him helped him immeasurably."

England captain Phil Vickery was also keeping a lid on things.

He was happy to praise Cipriani for his performance and keen to warn of the pressures that lie ahead, but when asked about the young man's confidence the prop's amused smile spoke volumes.

"He's certainly not slow in coming forward," said Vickery about the player he sees day in day out as team-mates for both Wasps and England.

Danny Cipriani and Jonny Wilkinson
Cipriani (left) replaced Wilkinson at fly-half against Ireland

"He's got a lot of confidence, edging on the side of arrogance sometimes, but I've not got a problem with that at all because he's got the skill set, I believe, which will serve him well."

Cipriani himself was happy to front up to the suggestion he is not short of self-belief.

"I have been given the job of playing fly-half for England. I can't come in quietly. I know people write about me saying 'I'm confident, I'm arrogant', but I have to do a job," he said.

"If I go about it half-heartedly then it's not going to work."

So, Danny is clearly not like Jonny. Being described as "arrogant", even with a smile, would be anathema to the self-effacing Wilkinson.

Cipriani is just starting out on a journey that, as Wilkinson knows all too well, will probably contain as many lows as highs.

At 28, Wilkinson is still young enough to have his say, but in the story of English fly-halves, the next chapter looks set to be written by Danny Cipriani.

see also
Cipriani 'can improve Wilkinson'
16 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
England v Ireland ratings
15 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
England v Ireland match stats
31 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
England 33-10 Ireland
15 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Six Nations photos
15 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union
Cipriani takes Wilkinson's place
11 Mar 08 |  English
Cipriani axed from England team
06 Mar 08 |  Rugby Union

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