BY Joe Cahal
Never mind the All Blacks, the biggest threat to England’s quest for rugby world cup glory looks to be coming from the indiscipline of their own players.
Two stars have already been dropped by coach Stuart Lancaster from England’s world cup squad and now the place of another is under scrutiny after Danny Cipriani was arrested in the early hours of Monday morning on suspicion of drink driving.
The number 10 and one time golden-boy of English rugby played a starring role in an England XV’s 73-12 demolition of the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday, but Cipriani was in police custody just hours later after his Mercedes was involved in a 5.15am collision with a Toyota in Chelsea. The fly half escaped uninjured and was released on bail without charge and England’s Rugby Football Union have stated they will not comment on the incident or Cipriani’s world cup chances until after the police investigation.
It is another major headache for England coach Lancaster who has already ruled out Manu Tuilagi and Dylan Hartley from his world cup squad in recent weeks. Tuilagi was convicted of assaulting two female police officers and a taxi driver, as well as causing criminal damage last month. The Leicester centre has since been banned from driving for 56-days for a separate speeding offence.
Hartley’s exclusion from the squad followed an on-field head butt during the Premiership semi-final between Northampton and Saracens.
Tthe Northampton hooker and captain received a four match ban for the offence which would have ruled him out of England’s three warm-up matches and the opening World Cup match against Fiji.
“There comes a point with a player when you think the message is not getting through,” replied Lancaster when questioned if his trust in Hartley has been misplaced. It is the hooker’s fifth suspension in three years and means he won’t be adding to his 66 international caps until at least next year.
“Dylan has two or three years at least left in him at the highest level. It is down to him to prove he can control his emotions in big matches and he will suffer a huge price now,” said Lancaster.
Players in contention for a place in England’s World Cup squad meet up for their first training camp on June 22 and while Tuilagi and Hartley will definitely not be there, Cipriani’s presence remains the subject of speculation. He was far from being an automatic choice in the final 31 man squad but his performance against the Barbarians on Sunday, including two tries and a faultless kicking display had put him back in serious contention. It was the first time Lancaster picked the Sale playmaker to start for an England XV and Cipriani responded by scoring 33 points in a man-of-the-match display.
However, the collision in Chelsea may have undermined those efforts given Lancaster’s determination to ensure his players make headlines for their performances rather than any indiscipline. Harlequins scrum-half Danny Dare was dropped from England’s Six Nations Championship squad in 2012 after pleading guilty to drink driving, so Cipriani’s participation in this year’s World Cup is in serious doubt.