Cipriani’s England days are over


Here is a player supposedly doing all he can to regain a foothold in the England set-up in World Cup year after an absence from international rugby of six years prior to this season's Six Nations. Cipriani is 27 years old, not 21. The time for excuses is gone. As racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart was so very fond of saying, you can't be a little bit pregnant. In Cipriani's case, you are either a rugby player or you are not.

It is not enough to dazzle with a couple of tries against the Barbarians at Twickenham. That body needs rest and treating with respect. The old days of celebrating victory with a few beers with the lads went out with Bill Beaumont. So, too, the idea that you can eat and drink as you please all week and be a rugby player for 80 minutes on match day.

The business of being a professional athlete in 2015 is a 24/7 commitment. Every drop of alcohol that passes the lips, every late night, has an impact on performance. You can't sleep off the effect of a night out when the club's medical team is waiting in the morning to measure the quality of the blood in your veins.

Even if Cipriani - or anybody else for that matter - were to recover in time for the next match, he would not be ready to go on the training pitch. And that is the level of dedication required in and out of season in the modern world of sport.

Ricky Hatton used to joke about losing four stones in weight between fights. He fought at 10st and ballooned to 14st before the Guinness ran out and the gym beckoned once more.

Eventually, Hatton's lifestyle caught up with him, against Floyd Mayweather Jnr, who despite his many disturbing personal traits is tee-total and never out of shape. Hatton looked in great nick but could not sustain his effort and ended the 2007 contest in Las Vegas horizontal.

Cipriani's latest calamity amounts not only to a parlous dereliction of duty but a failure to recognise the requirement - and betrays a casual attitude that has led England's coaches to question his approach.

Two years ago, he lay prone on a stretcher in front of a bus after being hit while on a pub crawl in Leeds. One of those attending him, presumably a mate, was dressed in red and white striped tights and shorts - and no, it wasn't a woman.

It is not as if Cipriani were unaware of the consequences of falling the wrong side of the cut. We have seen how England coach Stuart Lancaster ran Leicester's Manu Tuilagi out of the World Cup squad for assaulting two police officers - female ones at that. Similarly, Northampton captain Dylan Hartley was dumped for butting Saracens' Jamie George - and that was an emotional response in the heat of the contest.

Lancaster needs men he can trust - and that sentiment extends beyond the narrow confines of the match. He wants players who buy into a culture, who are athletes in repose every bit as much as they are with ball in hand, who take responsibility for the privilege they enjoy of playing rugby for a living, not vainglorious bozos with a bob on themselves.

How hard can it be? Should it prove that Cipriani was driving under the influence of alcohol, he ought to feel the full weight of Lancaster's ethical wrath. No-one was hurt in the collision in west London, but they might have been. There will be too many people reading this who are familiar with the pain of needless tragedy resulting from drink-driving.

There will be time enough for diversion when the playing is done. Too many young lads take for granted what they have. The augmentation of today's professional sportsmen by wealth and fame to positions of power needs proper management. None are the demi-gods they believe themselves to be.

Lancaster is doing his bit to bring the transgressor into line, but in the case of some, even the influence he wields can't save them.

Troubled times - Cipriani’s rap sheet

October 2008

Involved in training-ground bust-up with Wasps team-mate Josh Lewsey. The fracas left him unconscious, with a bloody nose and cut lip.

February 2011

Fined by Melbourne Rebels after being ejected from club following 43-0 Super 15 defeat by Waratahs for allegedly stealing bottle of vodka.

April 2013

Hospitalised with concussion and bruising after colliding with bus in Leeds while on pub crawl.

June 2015

Arrested on suspicion of drink-driving after car crash in London on Monday. Released on bail. – The Independent

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