It is 16 years since his professional debut and the temperatures are close to 30 degrees, yet Danny Cipriani is still the last one off the training pitch. After a quick shower, mopping the sweat from his brow, he takes a seat on the freshly cut grass of Farleigh House and begins to talk about his new life.
‘The summer’s been a good one,’ he says. ‘I had a week away in Greece with the missus. The world’s been in shut down for two years so there’s not much you can do, is there? I got married in lockdown and started my new life, which is great. Married life… I never thought it would happen but it happened.
‘When I was younger, my concept of marriage was that it’s unsuccessful because of my own parents. You don’t think it’s going to work so your idea of opening yourself up to someone is ‘Hell no!’ because you don’t know how it’s going to end.
Danny Cipriani has opened up to Sportsmail about love, marriage and a new start in rugby – the fly-half was speaking exclusively to Rugby Writer of the Year Nik Simon in the Mail on Sunday
The statistics from Cipriani’s storied career
‘Once you’ve opened yourself up and it’s reciprocated, it’s like freedom. Life isn’t just one flat track. We’re always evolving. I’m enjoying life now.’
Cipriani seems at ease in his new surroundings. He talks about football, old friends and new beginnings in Bath. I joke that his wedding was surprisingly low profile for someone whose life has been played out under the most public of eyes.
‘It was still in the Daily Mail,’ he chuckles, ‘but we kept it real quiet. We just wanted to get the registration and things done and we’ll do it properly in the Caribbean next year.
‘The best thing about married life is just that you’re excited to get home every day. You’ve got someone waiting for you that you love and that loves you. You can be honest with each other, you can be vulnerable with each other. It’s beautiful. If you can find that, then go for it.
‘We want to have a baby. We’re going through IVF right now. It’s a challenging process. Women are superwomen with the turmoil they go through. I’d love to be a father. I’m a step dad right now to Kam, who is a great kid and I’m loving that. Responsibilities come and I thrive off them.
‘I’m much more comfortable at home with my family than I am doing things like this. For a number of years, I found life more difficult. I found the media and the attention difficult. It was tough because I felt like I was dumbed down. I was thrust into it at a time when there wasn’t much support.
Cipriani was criticised earlier in his career for several controversial incidents off the pitch
‘Nowadays if a journalist says something bad, you can call them out on Twitter and people will help you out. I didn’t grow up in that era. It was very different. It was ruthless. It shapes your character and who people think you are.
‘Now we can sit here and have more open and vulnerable conversations. In the past, it’s been difficult to talk about things like mental health but it’s improving. You would get judged for showing weakness.
‘There’s a lot more uncertainty when you’re younger. There’s not as much flow to your life. You get your dopamine spikes — seeing friends, all the stuff I got up to, the troublesome stuff — but you don’t get to bed down into anything fruitful. It’s just nice to have that support at home. My life now is what I’ve always wanted.’
Almost 10 months have passed since Cipriani’s last competitive rugby match. He left Gloucester midway through last season, against a backdrop of uncertainty, but now his head is back in the game. He has rediscovered his love for the sport.
‘How was your summer in South Africa?’ he asks. ‘What was it like going to Cheslin Kolbe’s township in Cape Town? Quite rough? Different world, different conversations. It puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? As you get older, you’re more conscious of things. You’re more aware of things. You reflect more.
‘You’re excited about the future. You’re grateful for what you’ve got. During my time off, at the start, I genuinely thought I was going to retire. I felt like I’d had enough. Not in a negative way, because I enjoyed my time at Gloucester, but I just felt like my journey had run its course.
But Cipriani, now married to Victoria (right) admitted he is happier and more settled than ever
‘I’d been on the conveyor belt since I was 17 years old. I was disappointed I didn’t make the World Cup squad because that was something I’d been working towards. I got player of the season that year so I was hoping to get a look in, but it didn’t happen.
‘You think, ‘What’s next?’ How do you keep rejuvenating yourself? I parked rugby for a while. I needed some time to gather my thoughts but I started watching it again in February and I was on the edge of my seat. I missed it. The grind of rugby’s tough but you’ve got to be grateful for the fact that we get to do it.
‘This opportunity came about with Bath and it was a chance to be a part of a great club again. There’s so much talent here, guys like Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Semesa Rokoduguni, Tom de Glanville, and that makes coming into work easy.
‘I still want to go out there and prove that I can play under the lights but there’s a bigger picture to everything now. Before, everything was focused around rugby so everything was driven that way.
‘Now I go home to a beautiful family and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It makes coming to work more enjoyable and I’m more appreciative of it because you know it’s not going to last for ever.
‘It could be my last year, or I could play one more. Who knows? You’ve just got to take every moment as best as you can. As cliche as it sounds, I just want to take it game by game and get that game-day feeling in me again because I’ve missed it, for sure.’
After playing against Bath several times, the 33-year-old has now joined the West Country side
Cipriani will be charged with igniting a Bath squad loaded with talent, including the Lions pair Watson and Toby Faletau. After the final Test in South Africa, Gregor Townsend said in his coaching debrief that fly-halves are moving towards a more attacking generation. Does Cipriani agree?
‘It’s funny, I missed most of the third Test because our Sky was failing. It was so frustrating. We had to get the Sky man out, had this whole palaver and it turned out that the dog had knocked out the antenna because she sleeps next to the TV.
‘I’ve watched bits back and I saw some of the stuff that Finn Russell was doing. That injection of life he put into the game seemed like it helped. He was on fire. It all depends on what the coach wants. The coach dictates a lot of how the play goes.
‘If the team aren’t happy with it, then conversations start happening to push things in different directions. Finn made a difference when he came on with his inventiveness and his ability to play on the gainline but it was a bit too late. There’s so many ways to skin a cat.
‘Look at the way South Africa play… it’s not the most glamorous type of rugby but it’s winning rugby. You’ve got to look at the tools around you. There’s definitely more enjoyable ways to play the game but that’s what World Rugby’s trying to do by adapting the laws.
‘The 50-22 law and the goal line drop out are ways to create more space on the field. Defences are getting better and you’ve got to find new ways to break them down.
The talented playmaker also opened up about his international career with England (pictured)
The gifted No 10 is thought to have the talent to make more than the 16 appearances he did
But England head coach Eddie Jones often preferred George Ford and Owen Farrell instead
‘Look at the expansive way Quins won the league: that was a great advert for rugby. It was great to see. Marcus Smith has got all the skills and it was good to see a club buying into their own identity and going after it.
‘The All Blacks seem to be leading the way as always. Richie Mo’unga is probably the standout 10 right now. The new rules are trying to bring in a faster paced game and it will start going that way. It will bring in a few new questions and hopefully at Bath we can use that to play on the run and play some exciting rugby.’
Almost 40 minutes have passed and not once has the conversation steered towards England. That chapter seems to have finally closed. Is Cipriani content with what he achieved for them?
‘I felt like I was knocking the door down and no opportunities were coming, but you’ve just got to find ways to make peace with that. I would go home, work hard and keep turning up. I did that until 2019 and I can hang my hat on that.
‘I’m grateful I ever got to play any games for England. Where I grew up, I wasn’t meant to play for England. I don’t think I got enough opportunities but that’s my journey.
‘Life isn’t always going to be a bed of roses but I learnt a lot. You’ve just got to keep moving forwards and enjoy the next moment.’