Cipri­ani is a true star for Johnno

Daily Express - - DAILY EXPRESSSPO­RT -

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.”

STEVE BALE Pic­ture: DAVID ROGERS

GLOWING RE­PORT: John­son has been im­pressed by Cipri­ani’s work ethic

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