Ashton shows some Dickensian traits
John Taylor
March 7, 2008

A quiet word in the young man's ear would easily have sufficed...The biggest error of judgement has come from the coach, not the player." John Taylor writes

The Danny Cipriani saga beggars belief. As far as we can tell - and I have made a couple of discreet phone calls to verify the events of Wednesday evening - Cipriani has broken no rules or curfews and was not behaving badly in any way but was found guilty of inappropriate behaviour without any sort of disciplinary hearing.

From feeling on top of the world as he prepared for his first start in an England jersey he must now feel as if he has been kicked in the teeth by his coach, Brian Ashton.

Ashton has still refused to explain his decision beyond repeating that he considered it 'inappropriate behaviour.'

But what was so inappropriate? Everybody involved agrees that Cipriani went into the nightclub, delivered tickets to friends and left again. According to staff he was not drinking, was very polite and left again after a short time.

He had trained with England on Wednesday morning and then the players left Bath before reconvening on Thursday afternoon to leave for Scotland - except that Cipriani was told not to bother.

I am not sure Ashton's actions are even legal. These are professional players and as he has not contravened any rules or regulations or breached his contract.

There have been no proper disciplinary proceedings - warnings are usually required before such harsh sanctions are applied. He could have grounds to sue.

Not that he will, of course. He desperately wants to play for England and a bitter dispute with the coach and chief selector is no way to further your career.

So, he has eaten humble pie and vowed to win back his place, even apologising to the man who has given him a sentence out of all proportion to the misjudgement - there was certainly no crime.

'I don't think I'm a Draconian coach,' said Ashton at his Friday lunch-time press conference.

Well you are on your own there, Brian. I have been around for as long as you have and I have never known such an out of proportion reaction to a nothing incident.

This was not a guy missing training sessions or getting drunk and it all happened, not on a Friday but a Wednesday evening. He had plenty of time for the statutory eight hours sleep and would still have turned up at Heathrow looking as sharp and bright as modern fashion permits.

It is a complete misjudgement by the England coach which makes one worry about his state of mind. What is he trying to prove?

It is a wonderful example of cutting off nose to spite face. He drops Iain Balshaw because he feels he is not playing well enough (the Scots will love that bit of information) and then deprives himself of the opportunity to make the experiment everybody has been waiting for.

The atmosphere in the England camp must be one of bewilderment and the coach has created a totally unnecessary distraction and feeling of injustice before a big game.

A quiet word in the young man's ear would easily have sufficed.

The only other explanation is that Cipriani was already on a warning - we have all heard about his high profile love life - but, if that is the case, Ashton has a duty to the rest of the England players, the fans and everybody else who, like me is perplexed by this sudden new character trait - more akin to a Dickensian headmaster than a professional rugby coach - to tell all.

The biggest error of judgement has come from the coach, not the player.

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