He had "EMC2" emblazoned on the front of his No 15 shirt as he ran out on Tyneside yesterday, but for Danny Cipriani and his Wasps team-mates the equation was simple on the final day of the regular Guinness Premiership season. Only a win against Newcastle, coupled with defeat for Bath at home to Leeds, would put the Londoners into the semi-finals and extend the farewell of their one-time England playmaker. Sadly for Cipriani, there will be no long goodbye.
As Wasps said bye-bye to their play-off hopes, edging a victory in the north-east but losing fourth place to a flurry of Bath points down in the south-west, their fly-half cum full-back was not in a fit state to wave. After landing awkwardly while grounding a grubber-kick in his in-goal area, Cipriani left the field with a badly damaged right thumb in the 20th minute, receiving oxygen at pitch-side while being bandaged up. "He's got a suspected fracture," Tony Hanks, Wasps' director of rugby, reported. "He's in a considerable amount of pain."
It remains to be seen whether the future Melbourne Rebel will be fit to face England with the Barbarians at Twickenham on 30 May, but at least he ended his Wasps career with a win. It was a match in which the visitors had to dig deep, to overcome a Newcastle side who played at full-throttle with Alan Tait installed as their new head coach and with Carl Hayman, their captain and titanic tighthead prop, bidding farewell before joining Jonny Wilkinson and Co at Toulon.
Tait's men had seven points on the board after three minutes, Jimmy Gopperth picking up a ball that had been booted out of a ruck and running back through the traffic to score under the posts. The conversion was a formality for the Kiwi fly-half, the Premiership's leading points-scorer this season.
It took Wasps until the second quarter to start getting a grip on Hayman and the home pack and they were level in the 24th minute, the hooker Rob Webber driving over from close range and Dave Walder converting. Walder, Wilkinson's long-time stand-in at stand off in his Newcastle days, also nailed a penalty, furnishing the visitors with a 10-7 advantage at half-time.
Wasps could not pick up the momentum immediately after the interval. They lost Webber to the sin-bin in the 47th minute, courtesy of an off-the ball tackle, and they lost the lead three minutes later, Newcastle's Scotland Under-20 prop Grant Shiells – a half-time replacement for Micky Ward at loosehead prop – crossing the line in the right corner. Gopperth converted in style, negating the strong cross-wind with a banana kick of Brazilian footballing class.
That put Newcastle 14-10 up but two minutes later Dan Ward-Smith, standing in for Simon Shaw in the Wasps second row and standing out as an England tour candidate, barged over on the left. Walder missed the conversion but his Kingston Park radar was back in working order in the 62nd minute, locating the bullseye with a kick from out on the right after the darting Joe Simpson set up Paul Sackey for a score to mark the winger's departure – also to Toulon.
Newcastle had the final word on the scoreboard, the lock Tim Swinson crossing the Wasps line for a last-minute try after a barnstorming charge by Hayman's replacement, Kieran Brookes.
Newcastle Falcons A Tait; D Williams (S Davey, 71), R Vickerman, T Tu'ipulotu, G Bobo; J Gopperth (T Catterick, 79), M Young (H Charlton, 45); M Ward (G Shiels, 40), R Vickers (M Thompson, 71), C Hayman (capt; K Brookes, 79), J Hudson, T Swinson, F Levi (W Welch, 40), J Afu (M Sorenson, 61), B Wilson.
London Wasps D Cipriani (M van Gisbergen, 22); P Sackey, B Jacobs, D Waldouck, T Varndell; D Walder, J Simpson; T Payne (S Taulafo, 62), R Webber (T Lindsay, 76), P Vickery (B Broster, 60), D Ward-Smith, G Skivington, S Betsen (Lindsay, 52-56), J Hart (W Matthews, 61), T Rees (capt; D Leo, 72).
Referee R Debney (Leicestershire).