<
>

Danny Cipriani: Why I'm misunderstood by so many people

play
Danny Cipriani's ESPN Fantasy Rugby XV (1:39)

Wasps' Danny Cipriani reveals the XV that he hopes will lead him to ESPN Fantasy Rugby glory. (1:39)

Danny Cipriani is used to the misconceptions. He knows some coaches, teammates past and present, the public and media have already formed their opinion of him before he meets them.

"You go into an environment on the back foot as there is a preconceived idea," Cipriani tells ESPN. "It's about staying true to yourself and they can make their judgements.

"I go into different environments, you'd talk how you're used to and some coaches wouldn't like that, they felt they were being undermined, even though they weren't. It's how they view it... it's been interesting."

Aged 30, there is a hunger about Cipriani but equally a desire to anchor himself in the present. It helps him savour the victories, capture enjoyment without having to form emotions from watching matches back. The desire to win and be competitive remains ever-present, as is his eagerness to play again for England having last started a Test 10 years ago.

But there is also a calmness. The preconceptions used to get to him, appearing on the front-page of tabloids with his well-known then-partner bemused his younger self, but now as he assesses his career and the next step, he is comfortable in his own skin.

On Cipriani's bedside table is a book titled 'Ego is the Enemy'. It talks about the 'fight to master our greatest opponent'. He has read a couple of Ryan Holiday's other books. Cipriani is fascinated by the thirst for knowledge, a greater understanding of his mortality and spirituality. He has formed a close friendship with surfer Laird Hamilton, learning about relaxation techniques he had developed to cope with threatening situations amid the waves.

As we talk in Coventry's 'Herbert Art Gallery & Museum', Cipriani is just back from Barbados, where he spent some of the trip meditating. He walks in, hood up, clasping a bottle of water. He is currently fasting -- a technique he uses to aid his recovery from the knee injury he suffered back at the start of the season. He found it extremely beneficial then, and now he finds it helps him focus.

"I'm trying to educate myself and get more in touch," he explains. "There's so much in the world out there, it's endless, there's so much to tap into. I found by meditating, by going deeper into spirituality I really enjoyed it, took to it and it allowed me to think clearly on the field, off the field. The typical ups and downs you have in life, it makes it a bit easier. I'm enjoying it."

He doesn't necessarily feel 30 years old, but he is enjoying getting older with his mind developing as the years add up. But there was not necessarily a catalyst which led him down the path into spirituality. He's always prayed, but when he was younger he did not have a "blueprint", as he puts it, to help him handle matters out of his control.

"It's made me feel better," Cipriani says. "You focus on growing serotonin and that everlasting happiness, or peace. It might sound like 'heebie-jeebie' talk but I enjoyed it in the last five years."

But do not mistake this new-found calmness for lack of a competitive drive. That fire burns ever brighter: "Winning and being the best at what we do, how we achieve it is within me. What goes hand in hand is how you deliver messages, how you talk, how you get your points across, where you want people to run, what space to look at."

The young Cipriani never really felt he would be a professional player, though that was his dream. As he ran out for Rosslyn Park's minis, he loved the local rivalry with Richmond. That is the first part of his rugby path; he compartmentalises his career.

The first Wasps spell was "amazing, intense" as they won Aviva Premiership and European titles. With that came England recognition, and the media spotlight around his celebrity partner. Preconceptions started being formed by those who did not know him.

"It felt a bit overwhelming. It does seem like a different life, but at the time it's on you," he says. "You're in the moment, wondering why everyone is talking about you. It's not really big news, there are bigger things in the world going on. It seems petty but you learn from it, you learn not to make those mistakes and understand it doesn't really mean anything. It doesn't affect who you are."

The next stop was Melbourne Rebels where he started breaking through into this new-found spirituality. "It was a great life experience," and in 2010 he swapped Super Rugby for Sale Sharks.

It was not always plain-sailing during his four years in the North West -- his first season included personal criticism from then owner Brian Kennedy -- but he settled in, the club moved forward as did Cipriani. And then came the return to his boyhood club, Wasps, where he played alongside a number of box office backs.

"I've never enjoyed game day more than I have in the last two years," Cipriani reveals about his spell at the Ricoh Arena. "It's been special, sometimes it feels like everything's flowing. [In my career] every single stage, environment, squad has been interesting, meeting different coaches and characters. I've enjoyed that process, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad."

But he has just 14 England caps to his name, a dearth considering his talent. Having got a good run under Brian Ashton back in 2008 -- he name-checks Ashton and Shaun Edwards as two coaches who have a big influence on him -- it looked like he had the No. 10 shirt nailed down.

"I love passing on as much information as I can from what I've learned, how I see the game and being able to give that opinion or idea to other players."

Danny Cipriani

But then injury hit, the move to Melbourne Rebels followed and by the time he came back Stuart Lancaster was in the chair and he faced an uphill battle to get into the 2015 Rugby World Cup squad. Cipriani got a raw deal heading into that tournament, he never got a fair-crack at breaking into the team despite some impressive cameos from the bench.

Under Eddie Jones, he has been involved in one training camp but never in the matchday squad. When asked whether he has unfinished business in the game, he answers, with more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek: "I'd love to play for England... that might be 'finished business', I don't know. You don't know what's going to happen in the future. I might hit a rich vein of form and get picked." Jones has been in contact recently, the hope remains.

For now the focus is back on Wasps. With his contract up at the end of the season, he is yet to decide his next move. But as he has learnt, he is focusing on the present. Game day remains his favourite bit of the sport, he loves playing in that gifted backline. And he still loves rugby.

"I've learnt that no matter what, I'll find different reasons to what I love about rugby and the sport," he says. "From being personable, goals and satisfaction, you're hungry for all that.

"In the same way I'm hungry for it now. My enjoyment is seeing other players playing well in the team. Talking about things in training, then you go out there on Saturday and it works. You look at each other and you have a nice bond over it and it's something you've spoken about, you've gone and done it as a collective.

"The camaraderie, I love the team environment. I've learnt to deal with different coaches and adapt with it. Man management skills, I've learnt a lot.

"I love passing on as much information as I can from what I've learned, how I see the game and being able to give that opinion or idea to other players and see if matches or if it's something they can use. And help them."

The sun has set; Coventry's museum is lit up in red, the exhibits lie quiet, the introspection continues. Cipriani pauses before answering what he would tell his 18-year-old self if he had the chance. "I don't know if I could give myself advice as I've been 100 percent true to myself. I might not have said the right things, or toed the right line... what is it that they'd want?

"Maybe I've not had the right conversations or had too much of an opinion, but I'll always voice my opinion. It's not matter-of-fact it's just how I see the game."

Cipriani still has plenty of legs left in his career. "I haven't lost a yard of pace," and whether he is at Wasps next season, or more likely elsewhere, if preconceptions are parked, they will get one of the most gifted, capable playmakers of his generation. Attention is turning slightly to life after rugby, that is part of his spirituality, but thoughts of legacy are in a compartment of his life that he is yet to fathom.

"I've not really thought about it because no matter what I do, there will still be preconceived ideas so I can't worry about trying to change too much of what's going on," he explains.

"Just know that I turned up every week and put my best foot forward. For now, since I've been in England it's been five straight seasons of pretty high consistency. Consistency is a word ... I don't mean consistently average but I've had a big influence on a number of games but that's the nature of my position. That's expected.

"I guess my legacy is... he did his job."