Cipriani given chance to impress Johnson

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The Independent Online

Danny Cipriani is rewarded for his "continued improvement" on the comeback trail by starting at fly-half when Wasps tackle their fellow Guinness Premiership heavyweights Leicester tomorrow.

And it gives the 22-year-old an ideal stage on which to perform - just four days before England manager Martin Johnson announces his elite player squad ahead of this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.

Wasps were the last team to beat Leicester at Welford Road - in September 2008 - and Cipriani, who moves from full-back, has been tasked with orchestrating a repeat performance.

Wasps' trip to the East Midlands and Worcester's Sixways appointment with London Irish tomorrow are currently the only Premiership games not to be frozen off this weekend.

But Cipriani will look to turn up the heat in arguably his biggest game since recovering from a fractured fibula that sidelined him for more than two months.

"Danny Cipriani starts at fly-half, having shown continued improvement in his increasing game-time," said Wasps rugby director Tony Hanks.

"He was threatening with the ball in hand at 10 and 15 last weekend (against Newcastle).

"Facing Leicester at Welford Road is the best kind of challenge for us on the back of last weekend's defeat.

"Going up to Leicester is the kind of task that forces you to bounce back and refocus pretty quickly.

"Wasps-Leicester games always get the supporters revved up, and the rivalry only adds to the intensity of the game."

Wasps though, face a Leicester side fresh from beating league leaders Saracens last time out, with Tigers knowing a bonus point win might take them top of the Premiership.

"I was very pleased with the way we played at Saracens," said Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill.

"The result was very important, but the way we played was impressive too. We controlled the ball, we stood up to a very good pack and our accuracy was much better.

"Wasps are a good side and they've got a good record against us. They are also the team just behind us in the table, so it is very important for us to keep our run going."

Wasps' latest injury bulletin, meanwhile, suggests their former England captain Phil Vickery looks looks unlikely to play any part in the Six Nations this season.

The 33-year-old former England captain is recovering from neck surgery after experiencing discomfort during Wasps' Amlin European Challenge Cup tie against French club Racing-Metro in October.

Initial estimations were for a lay-off of around three months.

But although Wasps say the British and Irish Lions prop is "recovering well" and continuing with his rehab programme, they also predict it will be another minimum eight-week period before he returns to training.

England launch their Six Nations campaign against Wales at Twickenham on February 6, and complete the tournament by tackling France in Paris on March 20.

There is some better news about Wasps and England flanker Joe Worsley though, who should be back in full training early next month after suffering a knee ligament problem.

But Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson, whose blistering form had seen him earmarked as a candidate for Johnson's squad, faces three months sidelined.

Former England Under-20 star Simpson dislocated his left shoulder in Wasps' Premiership clash against Harlequins at Twickenham 12 days ago, and subsequently underwent surgery.

London Irish could head the Premiership tomorrow evening if they extend Worcester's long run without a league win.

With Saracens and second-placed Northampton both having their games postponed, a bonus point victory for the Exiles would guarantee pole position regardless of what Leicester do.

Despite their lack of league success though, and a slide into 11th place just five points above bottom club Leeds Carnegie, Worcester remain tough to beat.

Four draws from the last five Premiership starts - including a 16-16 scoreline away to Irish last month - confirms Worcester's durability.

"In terms of the league, it is about picking up points as often as we can," said Warriors rugby director Mike Ruddock.

"It's not too long ago that we played London Irish at the Madejski Stadium, and we did pretty well on that occasion.

"We really asked questions of Irish in most areas of the field, and we will have to do that again at Sixways if we are to succeed in toppling one of the best teams in Europe at the moment."