Mike Haley has a debt of gratitude to Danny Cipriani for the mentoring he provided the full-back as a young professional in the Sale Sharks academy. Now on opposing teams, the Munster full-back knows just how dangerous he will be for Gloucester at Kingsholm tomorrow night, should the fly-half pass a fitness test today.
Cipriani, 31, could go straight back into the Gloucester side for this crunch Heineken Champions Cup pool showdown in England’s West Country tomorrow, if he comes through today’s assessment on the chest injury he suffered in last month’s European loss at home to Exeter Chiefs.
That marked the latest setback for the supremely talented English playmaker, whose unpredictability makes him such a handful for defences, but has also failed to convince England coaches he is a reliable Test performer.
Munster back Haley needs no persuading about the influence Cipriani can have on those around him, on and off the field. He made his European debut alongside the fly-half when his new club visited the AJ Bell Stadium in Manchester in October 2014 and Cipriani put on a display of excellent game management and control to push the Sharks into a 23-7 half-time lead, only to be upstaged by a valiant Munster fightback and late, game-winning Ian Keatley drop goal for the Irishmen in a famous 27-26 victory.
“He was at Sale for maybe four years and when he joined Sale I joined at the same time from the academy,” Haley said of Cipriani. “At Sale, whatever your age, you sign for the academy and you train with the first team and me and a lad called Sam James, we were basically put under Cipriani’s wings and he took us and gave us loads of confidence and advice.
“He’s a fantastic player, so if he’s going to give you any advice, you’re going to listen to it. He’s still a good friend to this day and I give him a text every now and then.”
Another away win in Gloucester tomorrow night would do Munster very nicely in a pool that sees just four points separate the four teams going into the final two rounds. Despite losing with a bonus point in Castres in round four, Munster lead Pool 2 having drawn at Exeter Chiefs and dispatched Gloucester on home soil in round two, following Cipriani’s red card for a no-arms collision with ball-carrier Rory Scannell.
Yet, that should not detract from the threat he will pose at Kingsholm, should he pass fit.
“I think Cipriani is rarely out of the groove. If you look at him, every team he’s been at: When he was at Sale, the Sale attack was on form; when he was at Wasps, they were one of the best sides in the Premiership; and you look at Gloucester now, it follows him.
“He’s a fantastic player in attack and he’s something else, the way his mind might think and the way he can help other people or coach lads around him, it definitely helps them.
“It’s no surprise that every team he’s been to, the attack goes very well. Maybe I see it because, when you’re close to someone, you understand why things work that way, but he’s a very, very good player. I think he changes his game every now and then and, when he changes it, he does it the right way, so it’s great to see him going well. Gloucester is going to be a very tough game.”
Cipriani’s off-the-cuff style is a potential nightmare for full-backs, but Haley, 24, relishes the challenge.
“You’ve got to be on your toes, but it’s a good thing. It keeps you thinking, doesn’t let you settle and if I’m honest it’s a great challenge. You want to play against the best players and he’s one of them.”
There are other challenges on Haley’s horizon, not least his attempts to build a pram in advance of the arrival of his and partner Lucy’s first child, due early next month.
“She came over on Sunday. She was still working in England, she’s just gone on maternity [leave] now and she’s come over... we’ve got all the baby furniture in flat-pack, waiting to be made.
“We were struggling with the pram for about two hours trying to work it, but hopefully it’s not as slow as that.”