Danny Cipriani wil be hoping to make amends for missing the 2008 final
It was 2008 and Wasps’ player of the year, the most exciting talent in English rugby at the time, had just been discharged from hospital after a horrific ankle dislocation.
He hobbled into Headquarters on crutches and watched his teammates, corralled by Lawrence Dallaglio and Josh Lewsey, beat Leicester and confirm themselves as the finest rugby team in England.
“My ankle was throbbing throughout the whole 80 minutes and I was watching the whole game ‘pain-killered’ off my head! We’d had a pretty good year so it was nice to just finish it off and round it off with a win,” he recalled.
“Lol and Josh and that lot made sure I came on to the pitch. They brought the trophy to me and there was a picture of me and Dom Waldouck with it. It was just a nice day really.
“The year before that we had won the Heineken Cup so I just thought every year was going to be like that really. But it’s been a long time since then….”
Danny Cipriani suffered an horrific ankle dislocation before the 2008 final
This was Wasps. It would have been inconceivable that they would fail to make another Twickenham final for nine years but, like Cipriani’s own career, the path was not the predicted one.
“It would have taken a bit of believing but there were things going on at the time,” said Cipriani.
“There was a change of owners; quite a few England players left in 2009 – myself, Paul Sackey, Tom Palmer, James Haskell – Shaun Edwards was even more involved with Wales. It ended up just evolving that way.”
The slump was almost terminal. If Wasps had been relegated in 2012 they would, in all probability, have gone out of existence. They escaped by a point and five years later, revived by Derek Richardson’s wallet and a move to the midlands, Dai Young’s rock stars are back at Twickenham, averaging more than four tries a game this season.
Cipriani, after an itinerant spell taking in Australia and Manchester, is the front man again after returning to the club at the start of the season.
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“I’d kind of agreed at another club. I hadn’t signed anything but I’d made up my mind,” said Cipriani, who was linked with Harlequins at the time.
“Then I met Dai, and he said he wanted me to come in and lead a team.
“I looked at the squad here and thought there was no way we couldn’t finish in the top four and push on for further honours. That is what has happened this year so I’m pretty happy with that. “I’ve come in and I’ve tried to lead these boys and I’m so happy that my outside backs are going on and doing what they’re doing.” Unfortunately there will be no Kurtley Beale because of the hamstring injury he sustained in the semifinal but it is still some cast.
“Talent-wise I would say this team is better, man-for-man than the 2008 team but that team had the experience of getting to those finals and getting through it,” said Cipriani.
“This team has now started to do that. We are hopefully going to see this team grow into an even greater team than the one that was before.”
Cipriani, who turns 30 this year, feels in a better position to guide them in his second coming. He will never defend like Owen Farrell but he rates himself a more rounded player now – even if Eddie Jones, like Stuart Lancaster before him, does not see it. He seems destined to remain stuck on 14 caps.
“I probably understand the game a lot better now,” he said. “I really started to analyse it and become more of a student of the game at Sale, which Shaun Edwards has always told me to do. I understand rugby a lot more. I feel like I’ve got a better brain for it as a fly-half now.
“Selection is one of those things that goes your way or it doesn’t. It hasn’t gone my way over the last couple of years so for me coming back to a team and winning silverware is the best thing I can do.
“I’m always going to say that I’d love to still play for England and if it happens it would be great.
“I reckon over the last three or four seasons I’ve been pretty consistent. I’ve given it my best shot at different times but it’s not like they’re going too badly right now. You’ve just got to have faith in playing well, hopefully get a Premiership medal under my belt on Saturday and have a nice off-season. There’s no point worrying too much about it.”