Grand slam for England coach after Cipriani sin-bin

As a manager, establishing yourself as a disciplinarian can be an advantage - but it can also backfire...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

That certainly seems to be the case for England rugby union coach Brian Ashton, who decided to drop full-back Danny Cipriani from the squad after he was photographed coming out of a nightclub just after midnight on Thursday morning. Ashton said Cipriani’s behaviour was ‘inappropriate for a professional rugby player’ – but far from being lauded for his stance, Ashton has instead been roundly condemned from all sides. Pundits have been lining up to accuse him of over-reacting, with Cipriani’s club coach calling it ‘ill-judged and over the top’.

According to Cipriani, he only popped into the nightclub to deliver a few match tickets to a mate, and was back in bed within the hour (albeit he was supposed to be in his pyjamas by midnight). And although you might think this sounds about as far-fetched as a court submission by Mohammed al-Fayed, there doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that he’d been drinking. There’s certainly been no ‘dentist’s chair’ or sordid kiss-and-tell revelations, much to our disappointment.

Part of Ashton’s problem is that everyone was desperate to see Cipriani play. The Wasps wunderkind had been due to make his eagerly-awaited full England debut against Scotland on Saturday – instead he’s been publicly shamed, dumped from the squad, and forced to spend the day sitting on the bench for his club side with his tail between his legs. Which isn’t the ideal way to bolster the confidence of a 20-year-old considered to be England’s most talented young player.

In some ways Ashton couldn’t win. If he’d let the matter slide, he’d have been accused of tacitly endorsing Cipriani ignoring the informal curfew – and this might have eroded his authority with the other players. And some observers would inevitably have accused Cipriani of being a feckless waster, which probably wouldn’t have done him much good either.

On the other hand, publicly humiliating your bright young things isn’t always a good career move – particularly when your own position is under a cloud (as Ashton’s is, given England’s mixed results so far). As a manager, playing the disciplinarian can be a good way of drawing a line in the sand – but it can also be a way of torpedoing your popularity. Applying the rules is one thing, but if your team think you’ve needlessly over-reacted it might do your reputation more harm than good.

Of course it would have been a lot easier for Ashton to justify his decision if Cipriani's much-derided replacement Iain Balshaw had had a blinder and England had scored a resounding victory in Scotland. Instead, of course, they stuttered to an embarassing defeat - at this rate, the Cipriani saga might soon be the least of Ashton's worries...

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