Cipriani will be Gloucester's Jantjies

Mon, 14 May 2018 11:38
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OPINION: Following his recall to the England team last week, Danny Cipriani has joined Gloucester, with the club announcing his signing on Monday.

Cipriani's future has been one of the longest-running transfer sagas of the season, after Wasps confirmed the arrival of Lima Sopoaga for the next campaign and announced, back midway through the season, that Cipriani would be leaving in the off-season.

The 30-year-old flyhalf, who came through the London Wasps academy back when the club was based in High Wycombe, has had spells at the Melbourne Rebels and Sale Sharks sandwiched between two stints at his boyhood club and it had looked a few weeks ago as if a move to France or Japan beckoned.

His recall to the England team for the tour of South Africa has clearly changed Cipriani's plans, with the dangling carrot of a spot in England's Rugby World Cup squad next year too appetising for the playmaker to turn down.

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He will compete with George Ford and Owen Farrell in June to add to the 14 England caps he currently has to his name, before he joins up with Johan Ackermann and David Humphreys at Kingsholm in preparation for the 2018/19 season.

On the surface, it looks as if it's a remarkably good deal for club and player alike.

With Gloucester beginning to resurge under Ackermann's tutelage, it is exactly the kind of club Cipriani needs to be at to showcase his abilities ahead of the RWC. The Cherry and Whites will be back in the Champions Cup next season after a five-year absence from the competition and this will pit Cipriani against the best in Europe.

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Gloucester also made the Challenge Cup Final in Ackermann's debut season as head coach and took the scalps of Saracens and Exeter Chiefs in a Premiership season that was encouraging, at the least. On paper, they look to be a team that will be challenging in the top half of the competition next season and that's a good fit for Cipriani.

As for Gloucester, they get a top-tier flyhalf who has been instrumental to the high-octane and relentless rugby that Wasps have played in recent seasons. If they are keen to improve on their seventh place finish this season and make waves in the Champions Cup, then Cipriani is the kind of first receiver that can run a similarly ambitious and expansive side, not to mention create moments of individual magic that can swing games.

Perhaps the key point in this move is the similarity of Cipriani, as a player, to South African flyhalf Elton Jantjies.

Jantjies was an integral part of the rebuilding job that Ackermann did with the Lions down in Johannesburg and the pair turned around the franchise from perennial Super Rugby strugglers and underachievers, to the undisputed top team in South Africa.

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Although neither Ackermann nor Jantjies were able to lift the Super Rugby trophy, they did make the last two finals and came particularly close to denying the Crusaders last season, in a tournament that has become extremely Kiwi-dominated.

As a playmaker on the gain-line, an exploiter of space and a dangerous runner with ball-in-hand, Jantjies helped spearhead that Lions revolution and the similarities in playing style to Cipriani are obvious.

If Ackermann is keen to develop and evolve Gloucester into something resembling that Lions side, there is arguably no better No.10 in English rugby to put behind the wheel than Cipriani.

People will point to the pressure valve Jantjies had outside of him in Rohan Janse van Rensburg and claim there's not a like-for-like centre in that mould currently at Kingsholm, but van Rensburg, if the rumours are to be believed, could well be joining Cipriani in the south-west.

Just stop for a moment to think of the damage Cipriani could do on second phase, following a powerful Van Rensburg carry and quick recycling of the ball. It's a lot of ifs, buts and projections at the moment, but it is an appetising combination for Gloucester fans to ponder on.

You feel somewhat for Billy Burns in this situation who, stylistically, isn't too different from Jantjies or Cipriani, and has shown he is capable of orchestrating the Cherry and Whites' backline this season, but top clubs need competition and depth, especially at a key position like flyhalf.

Competing in the Champions Cup, rather than the Challenge Cup, will require Gloucester to rotate more in the Premiership if they are to look after their squad properly and there will still be opportunities for Burns. Don't rule out playing time at 15, either, should Jason Woodward be injured, involved with England or deployed on the wing.

Having waited late to make the decision and clearly been influenced by the England recall, it's easy to grasp and assume this move is a short-term one for Cipriani, to give him one last hurrah in the Premiership and a shot at the RWC, but it can be much more than that.

With maturity, a refined game and an end goal he's passionate about and driven to achieve, Cipriani could be the style-specific spark plug and lieutenant that Ackermann needs to turn Gloucester into a genuine title challenger.

By Alex Shaw, RugbyPass