England fly-half Danny Cipriani awaits Rugby World Cup fate

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Undoubted talent: Danny Cipriani starred for England against the Barbarians.

England must conduct their preparations for the World Cup burdened by the uncertainty surrounding Danny Cipriani after the Sale flyhalf was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

– #Quiz360: Wednesday – WIN Vivitar Action Camera
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Cipriani was unhurt in a collision between his Mercedes and a Toyota in the Chelsea area of west London at 05:15 on Monday morning, just hours after he had produced a man of the match display against the Barbarians at Twickenham. 

The 27-year-old was given a breath test and taken to a west London police station before being released on bail. Under the terms of his bail, he must return at an unspecified date in early August when he will either be charged, bailed further or released with no action taken.

England are waiting for the outcome of the police investigation before deciding what action – if any – should be taken. “We are aware of the matter concerning Danny Cipriani. However, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time until all the facts are known,” a spokesperson for the Rugby Football Union said.

Both England and Cipriani are now stuck in limbo, sweating on the result of the police enquiry into the incident as head coach Stuart Lancaster confronts yet another disciplinary headache. England are still three weeks away from beginning their summer training camp, but have already been forced to remove established internationals Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi from their World Cup plans on disciplinary grounds. 

Hartley was ejected from the initial 50-man squad for head-butting rival hooker Jamie George on club duty while Tuilagi was punished following his conviction for attacking two female police officers and a taxi driver. Now England and Cipriani face an anxious and lengthy wait to see if there will be another high-profile World Cup casualty and the matter is sure to cast a cloud over tournament preparations, which include a two-week spell at high altitude in Denver.

If Cipriani is found to have transgressed, Lancaster will be compelled to act decisively yet again to honour the hard-line stance on disciplinary issues he has maintained throughout his tenure.

Speaking to the media after finishing with an outstanding 33-point haul in Sunday’s 73-12 victory over the Barbarians, Cipriani insisted the England management had learnt to trust him once more having rebuilt a reputation tarnished by repeated misdemeanours and a celebrity lifestyle.

Only last week, Cipriani described his inclusion in the World Cup training squad as a “dream” and outlined the desire to become a coach. “I want to be a role model and that person who helps develop people,” he said.

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#360Rugby: Toulon and Joseph lead end-of-season awards

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European Champions Cup winners Toulon could be rugby's finest ever club side.

As the Aviva Premiership and Pro12 seasons drew to a close on the weekend it seemed like a good time to reflect on a wonderful season in European rugby. Saracens and Glasgow were fitting champions, while it was only right that the Champions Cup play-off between Gloucester and Bordeaux-Begles was decided by a nerve-jangling late drop goal.

It is still all to play for in France of course, but as we wait for the Top 14 play-offs, here are the 360Rugby Awards…

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– EUROPE: Toulon set to bolster ranks with O'Connell

Player of the season – Jonathan Joseph (Bath)

If fit Jonathan Joseph is England's first-choice World Cup outside-centre.

This may seem like a strange choice given Bath finished the season empty handed, but the impact Joseph had for both club and country this season was unparalleled across the continent.

Joseph’s was truly a breakthrough campaign, with the former London Irish centre announcing himself on the European stage with a monstrous display in Toulouse that helped his side to a 35-18 victory in France, while also helping them to the Premiership final.

His try on Saturday came too late to save Bath, but his performances at Twickenham for England this season have been impressive and have enabled Stuart Lancaster to deal decisively with Manu Tuilagi’s off-field problems.

Team of the season – Toulon

There isn’t much that can be said about Bernard Laporte’s expensively assembled side that hasn’t already. Toulon wrote their names in the history books this season with their third successive European Cup win, playing a brand of rugby that few can live with.

They could yet finish the season with a second successive Top 14 title, and having beaten their closest rivals, Clermont, in the Champions Cup final few would bet against them doing just that.

Most improved team – Wasps

Joe Launchbury has been at the heart of Wasps' fine season.

Exeter and Bordeaux-Begles both ran the nomadic Premiership club close for this prize, but due to the sheer meteoric nature of their rise, Wasps get the nod.

Ahead of their move to Coventry, the six-times English champions had lost eight of their 13 games in all competitions, while their Champions Cup hopes hung by a thread. Cue a run to the last eight in Europe and a top-six finish at home all played out in front of record crowds at the Ricoh Arena. Not much to live up to in their second season in the Midlands, then.

Coach of the season – Gregor Townsend (Glasgow)

Leading Glasgow to their first-ever Pro12 championship, becoming the only Scottish team to lift the trophy, is some achievement for Townsend. That his side did it in the manner they did makes it all the more impressive.

The Warriors won more games than any other team in the competition, and sealed the title with a four-try rout of Munster. Further evidence of the work done by Townsend should come with the number of Glasgow players picked for Scotland this autumn.

Find of the season – Maro Itoje (Saracens)

Maro Itoje has come of age in his first season as a senior professional at Saracens.

Itoje started the season as an exciting prospect, and finished it as an outside bet to make an impression for England at the World Cup. En route the Harrow-educated forward captained Sarries to A League and LV= Cup success while starting their Premiership final win over Bath.

Try of the season – Joe Simpson (Wasps v Exeter)

Injury looks to have robbed Simpson of his World Cup dream, and that definitely looks like being England’s loss. Against Exeter, the scrum-half displayed his searing pace, picking the ball up in his own half before streaking through the whole Chiefs defence to score a wonderful solo try.


 

Most unlikely solo try – Xavier Chiocci (Toulon v Castres)

Simpson isn’t the only quick rugby player of course, but few thought Chiocci possessed the jet-heeled pace he showed in Toulon’s win over Castres last month. Watch the prop fly…

Best rant – Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon)

Few thought Castrogiovanni’s return to Leicester last December to be a quiet one, but no-one could have expected the fireworks that followed his side’s 25-21 defeat at Welford Road. The Italian prop felt he had been misrepresented following his exit from the Tigers, and proceeded to unleash a ferocious verbal attack on his former boss Richard Cockerill.

In fairness to Castrogiovanni, he referred to himself as a “hairy f*cking Italian”, but found himself in hot water after suggesting Cockerill was an unprintable four-letter word on more than one occasion.

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George hoping to capitalise on Hartley's headbutt ban

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No hard feelings: Jame George (r).

Jamie George says he has “no hard feelings” towards Dylan Hartley after being on the receiving end of a head-butt that cost Northampton’s firebrand captain his World Cup chance.

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Uncapped hooker George has replaced Hartley in England’s 50-man World Cup training squad, and he celebrated his call-up by scoring one try and creating another as Saracens were crowned Aviva Premiership champions by beating Bath 28-16 at Twickenham.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster reacted swiftly to Hartley’s four-week ban, imposed following his citing for the George incident during a Premiership semi-final clash, by removing him from World Cup contention.

Hartley, who has an appalling disciplinary record, cannot play again until after England’s World Cup opener against Fiji on September 18, and George will now report for pre-tournament training duty in three weeks’ time alongside fellow hookers Tom Youngs, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Rob Webber.

“You have to feel for him,” George said. “It is very difficult circumstances that he has got himself in. I have no hard feelings towards him. It was in the heat of the moment and it was something I am sure he will regret. But it has given me this opportunity and I am going to try and take it as well as I can.

“I am just going to get my head down and try to work as hard as I can. Hopefully, I can develop as a player and if that happens then anything can happen. I can’t control selection and all the rest of it, but what I can control is trying to develop myself, trying to develop the way I play and learn from the amazing people around me.”

It is barely a fortnight since 24-year-old George failed to make Lancaster’s first squad but the contrast of emotions could hardly be greater.

“Mark McCall (Saracens rugby director) rang me after the semi-final and said it was going to be announced I was going to be in the squad and how proud he was of me. That was one of the best phone calls I have ever received,” George said.

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