Cipriani is a true star for Johnno
DANNY CIPRIANI’S apparent thirst for the limelight, off as well as on the field, has brought him criticism when he has achieved next to nothing as an international rugby player – but not from his England boss Martin Johnson.
Johnson is about as far removed as it is possible to be from the celebrity culture that pervades some of sport.
For one thing, he has been there and done it by leading England to a World Cup and the Lions on two tours. And rather than worrying about the glossy magazine appearances and actress girlfriend Kelly Brook, he has nothing but praise for Cipriani for his recovery from the ghastly ankle injury which laid him up from last May to October.
Originally Cipriani, 21 on Sunday, was told he might not be fit until 2009. “My experience of Danny Cipriani is this – I saw him badly fracture and dislocate his ankle and when I spoke to him on the Monday he was already in rehab,” said Johnson.
“Danny immediately said he would be back before the medical people were saying he would and I told him to relax, whether it was the new year or December, we needed him back at 100 per cent. In my ongoing conversations he said he was going to be back earlier and earlier, while I was trying to calm him down. And when did he play? October 1.
“He works hard at being a good rugby player and doesn’t get treated any differently from anyone else here.”
Johnson was speaking yesterday at England’s Surrey training base, where he has brought his squad back after more than two years away, a decision RFU chief executive Francis Baron explained at the time as dictated by the need to be “leaner”.
This was where the sides Johnson captained laid their plans for the world domination they fleetingly achieved. With Johnson as team manager, England begin the cycle again against the Pacific Islands next Saturday followed in short order by Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
There have been suggestions that Johnson – not to mention Cipriani’s own club coaches at Wasps – is uncomfortable with the attention lavished on fly-half Cipriani. Johnson’s own playing background at Leicester was the complete antithesis. “Did we live in an age of instant celebrity and has a guy with one start for England been on the front pages as Danny Cipriani has? Probably not,” said Johnson.
“But from our point of view, it’s what you do here and how you play your rugby that matters.”
If Cipriani is emphatically not in Johnson’s image, uncapped hooker Dylan Hartley is.
Whether or not Bath’s Lee Mears is fit, Hartley will win his first cap either in the XV or from the bench against the islanders.
Northampton’s Hartley is a New Zealander who has qualified on residency and would have gone to last year’s World Cup but for his six-month ban for eye-gouging James Haskell when the Saints played Wasps. Haskell is now his England companion.
Johnson was never accused of that heinous crime, but he had enough disciplinary scrapes of his own to empathise with a kindred spirit, who found himself in trouble again last weekend for a dubious tackle against Saracens.
“Dylan has had a long suspension and he is aware he may have picked up a bit of a reputation, but we are not concerned about it,” said Johnson.
“We trust him to be involved in the squad. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have him here.
“Having said that, he is a young guy who has enthusiasm and sometimes it goes the wrong way, over the top. I know what that’s about – it’s about controlling it.”
GLOWING REPORT: Johnson has been impressed by Cipriani’s work ethic