6 Nations Betting: Once the wild child, but Cipriani is now England's wild card

Back with a bang - Danny Cipriani goes over for his try against Italy
Back with a bang - Danny Cipriani goes over for his try against Italy

England face a defining game in Dublin on Sunday, and Ralph Ellis says the return of the prodigal son in Danny Cipriani will give Stuart Lancaster's team a crucial edge...

"What better tale for a World Cup year than the return of the prodigal son of English rugby who almost wasted his talent but is now making up for lost time with both club and country?"

For Danny Cipriani, it was a defining moment. Coming off the bench against Italy, and going over for a try with virtually his first touch of the ball.

Welcome back to the man who could - and probably should - have been England's number ten for the last seven years but instead was winning only his tenth cap. Welcome back to another of the great collection of English sportsmen who got filed under the "wayward genius" category.

The roar that engulfed Twickenham when Cipriani ran on to the pitch was massive. And that's also a strange trait of our sporting public. We admire the men like Jonny Wilkinson who bring endless hours of training ground dedication to their craft - but we love the mavericks with astonishing talent who live their life to the full. Think Sir Ian Botham, Gazza, and so on.

The new breed of fly halves in Stuart Lancaster's set-up come from the Wilkinson school. Owen Farrell and George Ford are dedicated and professional in their young lives and eager to improve.

But Cipriani brings a touch of romance. What better tale for a World Cup year than the return of the prodigal son of English rugby who almost wasted his talent but is now making up for lost time with both club and country?

The 27-year-old is arguably the most instinctive and imaginative number ten at England's disposal, and that flash of inspiration against Italy showed what he can still offer.

In the short term he's putting pressure on Ford, the 21-year-old who has emerged at Bath this year and in the absence through injury of Farrell has staked a serious claim to remain the number one choice. Ford might be gaining confidence from getting picked for four games in a row, but he knows he still can't take anything for granted.

That pressure is one of the reasons why I fancy backing England to build on the epic win over Wales that opened the Six Nations by landing odds of 2.285/4 to win in Ireland on Sunday. The trip to Dublin will put the spotlight on both the fly-halves, and could be the stage for Cipriani to show how eager he is to make up for lost time. The guy who was once the wild child of the game has turned into an invaluable wild card.

In Cardiff Lancaster chose to leave the Sale star on his bench, one of only two unused replacements, as he trusted the younger man to see out the fantastic win over Wales to a conclusion. Against Ireland, especially if England find themselves chasing the game late on, might just be the time to unleash his extra creativity.

It's hard to know what to make of this England team. Stuttering displays in the Autumn Internationals followed by a raft of injuries were hardly the smooth build-up towards the summer that anybody wanted. And I'm still not sure I'd be in a hurry to back Lancaster's men to win the World Cup at a price as short as 5.79/2.

But the courageous performance in Cardiff, with not just brutal forward play but some imaginative stuff from the backs, made you wonder if England have stumbled on a solution just in time. And Cipriani's little cameo against Italy suggested they might have also rediscovered the fantasy player that any top side always needs.

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