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Cipriani faces tough fight for England place

England's interim head coach Stuart Lancaster watches his team warm-up before the start of their six nations rugby match against Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, London, Saturday, March 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

LONDON: Danny Cipriani’s return to the Premiership has been welcomed by Stuart Lancaster but the interim England coach warned the flyhalf he would face a tough fight to regain his Test place.

Cipriani will leave the Melbourne Rebels at the end of the Super 15 season to take up a three-year contract with English Premiership club Sale.

The 24-year-old former Wasps playmaker was regarded as the heir apparent to Jonny Wilkinson when, in his first Test start at No. 10, he produced a commanding display in a 33-10 win over Ireland at Twickenham in 2008.

But Cipriani, all of whose seven Test caps to date came that year, saw his fledgling international career blighted by injuries.

His attitude was also called into question after several training ground spats and a colorful life away from rugby that saw Cipriani’s England debut delayed after he was photographed coming out of a nightclub in the early hours of the morning.

“I’m pleased Danny is coming back to England,” Lancaster said Tuesday.

“I had a conversation with him about Christmastime about his motivation to play for England which is still great.

“For him to put his hat in the ring so to speak he needs to be back in England playing and it’s a great signing for Sale and great for northern rugby [Sale are based near Manchester in north-west England].

However, with 20-year-old Owen Farrell now installed at flyhalf following a Six Nations where England finished second, Lancaster said the battle for the Test No. 10 shirt was fierce.

“He’s coming back into a pretty competitive position to be honest. When you look at the strides that Owen Farrell has made during the Six Nations to Charlie Hodgson’s contribution ... Toby Flood is a high-quality player whom we’ve all got a lot of time for and respect, and not only that you’ve got a lot of lads coming through as well.

“He is going to have to earn his right in the same way everyone else will and the way you do that is by playing well for your club and buying into their culture and proving that you should be first of all a Saxons [England A] player and then a senior player.”

Earlier Tuesday, Melbourne confirmed Cipriani’s impending departure having seen him become their leading point scorer with 108 points in his debut season of Super Rugby last year.

“It was a tremendous coup for the club to sign a player of Danny’s calibre and like all of our players, Danny has played an important part in our short history,” Rebels chief executive Steven Boland said.

“However, we have always understood and supported his desire to return to the English national team and we hope this move will help Danny achieve this goal.”

Cipriani’s time in the southern hemisphere provincial championship also created unwanted headlines when he was warned for taking a bottle of alcohol out of a nightclub and stood down for a match against the Queensland Reds following an unsanctioned night out.

He has been under pressure for the flyhalf spot at the Rebels since Australia’s James O’Connor arrived from the Perth-based Western Force.

The Rebels have lost their first three Super 15 games this campaign.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2012, on page 14.

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