Cipriani: A Rebel with a cause
Melbourne - England flyhalf Danny Cipriani is hoping his gamble to move to Australia and join new Super 15 franchise Melbourne Rebels will prove to be a masterstroke from a player whose judgement has often been seen to be his weak point.
It will he hopes act as a springboard for him to return to the international fold, maybe even at this year's Rugby World Cup.
"I am really enjoying the time out here, being in the sun, and experiencing something new," said 23-year-old Cipriani, once hailed as English rugby's next superstar before a spectacular fall from grace.
After a sensational start with Wasps he got the nod for the England side in their opening 2008 Six Nations match against Scotland.
But as so often in his young career he looked to have blown his chance after he was dropped two days ahead of it after being photographed leaving a nightclub after midnight.
A chastened Cipriani - who said he had only gone to the nightclub to drop off tickets for some friends - returned later in the tournament and starred in a 33-10 demolition of Ireland.
However, ill-fortune struck when he suffered a career-threatening broken ankle but he showed real determination to make a remarkable recovery and return to action, earning a recall to the England side for the 2008 autumn tests.
Two poor performances placed question marks over his ability to play at the top level, and frequent appearances in the tabloid press, mostly concerning his relationship with model Kelly Brook, and his attitude put him on a collision course with England's no-nonsense coach Martin Johnson.
In February, Cipriani agreed to join the Rebels on a two-year contract after discovering he did not figure in Johnson's plans.
Now under the guidance of Melbourne coach Rod MacQueen Cipriani has rediscovered his smile.
"I am really enjoying it. It's a very good team. We have come together very well. I think everyone in the team has been enjoying it and we all get on very well," Cipriani told AFP.
When asked about his international prospects Cipriani said he would welcome a return to the international fold.
"I am gonna do the best I can and play the best I can and hopefully If I get a chance to get a call-up... I will always be open to play for England.
"I will make sure I play the best I can to have an opportunity," he insisted.
Cipriani, however, is unlikely to take part in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand as he will be playing in Australia during the February 4 to March 11 Six Nations tournament.
The Super 15 in Australia however represents a fresh start with the Melbourne Rebels pre-season training in full swing, which included a 43-13 thrashing of Tonga in their first warm up game.
"I enjoyed it, it was the first time I played in eight months," said Cipriani, who added he was enjoying the faster pace of the Australian game.
MacQueen was also upbeat about Cipriani.
"Danny is settling in very well with the team. He is near being very much part of it," said MacQueen, who won the World Cup as Australia coach in 1999.
"We're very aware of the press that Danny's had in the past and I suppose one of the things I'm at pains to point out is that it's very difficult when we're building a new team and we're always hearing about Danny," complained MacQueen, who has gone out of his way to deflect attention from the player.
"So it's disappointing for him but that's one of the reasons he's come over here, to get a bit of a fresh start. He's only a young player and I think he can do that through this team."
Cipriani said he was okay with all the attention.
"I have had it since I was 18 so I am kind of used to it. It is what it is and I've just got to deal with it. But it would be less (attention) here than in England," he said.
All eyes, especially those of Johnson, will be trained on Cipriani should he take to the pitch in The Melbourne Rebels opening Super 15 clash against the Waratahs on February 18 and see if a change of scenery has done him the world of good.