A sigh of relief echoed around Leeds on Thursday afternoon as it was announced that Danny Cipriani had been discharged from hospital after being hit by a bus in Leeds. The former prodigal son of English rugby has endured a troubled career of unfulfilled potential during which he has never been far from controversy.
After bursting onto the scene in Wasps’ 2007 Heineken Cup winning team, it did not take long for him to arouse the interest of the England selectors.
As a 20-year-old starlet, Cipriani was set to make his international debut against Scotland in the 2008 Six Nations. Two days before, he was axed from the side after photos emerged of him leaving a London nightclub.
A fortnight later when Cipriani did play against Ireland he put it an outstanding performance. However, he did little to endear himself to the England staff, telling an interviewer live on BBC, “It’s the f***ing one to eight who deserve the man of the match”, following England’s victory.
His misdemeanours continued and in October he was involved in a training ground bust-up with England and Wasps teammate Josh Lewsey. The fight, which left Cipriani with a bloodied nose and lip, was said to have started after Lewsey questioned the young player’s commitment.
Meanwhile, Cipriani’s high profile relationship with model Kelly Brook was filling up the gossip columns. A combination of unfortunate injuries and inconsistent performances saw his international career falter. After falling out of favour with England coach Martin Johnson, he left Wasps in 2010 to try to revive his career in Australia for the Melbourne Rebels.
Antics continued Down Under as Cipriani was fined for stealing vodka from behind a Melbourne bar. He returned to England last year, signing for Sale Sharks although the spotlight remained on his private life and on/off relationship with Brook.
Questions will again be asked about drinking culture in sport, and particularly rugby union, with England’s troubles off the pitch at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand very much a recent memory. That the Sale Sharks were doing an Otley Run on a ‘weekend off’, and not even an end of season party, raises concerns about the example set by professional sportsmen.
Thankfully, Cipriani is fine and will be fit to play again. However, he might do well to look to the example of England teammate Danny Care. Care suffered serious alcohol problems and was involved in several instances of drink-fuelled crime. Last year, he went teetotal making the brave decision that drink was affecting his game and career. Care is now starting to play some of his best rugby again and has been shortlisted for the Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Year Award.
Of course, these problems are by no means exclusive to rugby or even sport but the likes of Cipriani must realise that they are role models and as celebrities, their behaviour will always come under intense scrutiny.