Cipriani: a rebel with a cause?
Some might think it entirely appropriate that Danny Cipriani is leaving these shores to join a team dubbed the Melbourne Rebels. Celebrity rugby player, isn't he? Likes a glamour puss, a night on the town, scrapping with his team-mates, getting up the nose of his coach. All in all a bit of a wrong 'un. All in all a bit of a rebel.
Or you could view it another way: a rare talent - all too rare as far as English rugby is concerned - fleeing the stifling confines of the European game, hoping to flower in more enlightened climes. Misguided at times but misunderstood, another lavishly-gifted English sportsman viewed with suspicion, whose face doesn't fit.
Cipriani is one of English rugby union's few crossover stars, yet the man himself is something of a mystery - and has been since the time he was axed by a twitchy England coach before he had even made his international debut.
Called into the side for the 2008 Six Nations encounter against Scotland, Cipriani was 'papped' leaving a nightclub a few days before the game. Brian Ashton presumably believed Cipriani was out on a pre-match razzle, while Cipriani maintained he was merely dropping off tickets to a friend. Journalists, pundits and fans didn't really know what to believe - a sign of things to come.
Cipriani made his debut for Wasps as a 17-year-old but not everything has got to plan since then
When Cipriani did make his debut, against Ireland a week later, he dazzled, slotting seven out of seven goals and playing a part in all three of England's tries. King Wilkinson was dead, long live King Cipriani. Only it didn't work out like that.
In May 2008, he suffered a horrific ankle injury, returned too soon and was brutally exposed by South Africa later that year in a record 42-6 defeat at Twickenham. And that's pretty much his England career to date, not counting a couple of appearances for the second-string Saxons.
"Whose perception is it that he's a unique talent?" challenged England boss Martin Johnson last May, having overlooked Cipriani for the summer's Tests against Argentina. To be fair to Johnson, Cipriani had endured a poor season with club side Wasps, during which he had acquired a celebrity girlfriend and been involved in a couple of training-ground spats.
But fifth or sixth-best fly-half in the country? The Lions selectors, including Wasps director of rugby Ian McGeechan and head coach Shaun Edwards, certainly didn't think so, putting him on standby for the tour to South Africa.
Cipriani's biggest crime in the eyes of some critics was his high-profile relationship with model Kelly Brook, the same critics conveniently ignoring the fact the reason his team-mates didn't appear in the papers anything like as often was because they weren't as pretty as Cipriani - nor were they in a relationship with Kelly Brook.
Whether Johnson was exercised by Cipriani's extra-curricular activities or perceived bad attitude - or both - Cipriani has made it clear there wasn't much of a rapport between the two. "A team includes all kinds of personalities," he said last year. "You have to manage them differently. It was weird, they [the England management] didn't even communicate with me."
This might sound rather self-centred - "look at me, I need special treatment, I'm different to the rest" - but McGeechan and Edwards, who know him well, and Ashton before them clearly felt they could keep him on a leash and accommodate his talent.
"My whole life has been geared towards playing for England," Cipriani told BBC Sport last week, which may sound odd in light of his decision to sign for the Rebels, the newest outfit in what was the Super 14 and is now the Super 15.
But there is actually nothing that mystifying about his move. Indeed, it is to be applauded. As Cipriani put it, "right now I'm not fitting into the coaches' plans", so he turned down bigger money offers from French clubs and decided to test himself against and learn from the very best instead. He is, after all, only 22.
Cipriani ended a high-profile - and much criticised - relationship with Kelly Brook in the summer
"They [the England selectors] have got what they're looking for for the World Cup so I've got to be selfish," added Cipriani, who made his Wasps debut amid much fanfare at 17.
"It's the best brand of rugby there is and I'll be playing against Dan Carter, Matt Giteau, Quade Cooper, Morne Steyn - players with a ridiculous amount of talent - and it's exciting to be able to pit myself against the best in the world."
In Rebels coach Rod MacQueen, who led Australia to World Cup glory in 1999, Cipriani seems to have a sympathetic mentor, although MacQueen might now be questioning his judgement following Cipriani's failure to show up for the official launch in Melbourne last week because of "visa problems".
It is episodes such as this that make you wonder whether Cipriani is clued-up enough to hack it in the toughest school of all - and whether Johnson's instinct is correct.
The next two years of Cipriani's career could help define both men's careers. Should Cipriani melt in the furnace that is the Super 15, then it could all prove a little embarrassing and Johnson will have been vindicated. But glow like a rod of iron and the free-spirited Cipriani will have become a rebel with a cause, proof of the prohibitive, risk-averse nature of Johnson's reign, indeed English rugby in general.