Having seen his name tumble down the England pecking order, Danny Cipriani must now realise he is not even first-choice No 10 at his own club. That mantle belongs to the under-sung and underhyped Dave Walder, who tonight, for the third match running, will force his more famous squad-mate to make his comeback appearance from the bench.
In fairness to Walder, he was supreme in the hard-fought win against Bayonne on Saturday and it would have been harsh if the Wasps rugby director, Tony Hanks, had dropped him for this quick-fire Amlin Challenge Cup rematch in south-west France. Yet the ominous aspect for Cipriani, who fractured a fibia in October, is that Hanks made four changes to the side that prevailed 22-18 and reasoned: "Our team changes reflect the three fixtures in an 11-day turnaround and give us the chance to fully rotate the squad."
No rotation in the playmaking role. Cipriani must be concerned, especially as Hanks implied that, in his absence, Walder has made the position his own. "Danny had the jersey early on and Dave had to be patient and wait for his opportunity," Hanks said. "He's really responded, hasn't he?"
What cannot be doubted, however, is Cipriani's desire to play and perhaps play well enough to persuade the England manager, Martin Johnson, to take a peek. "I'm fit and ready to go," said the 22-year-old after appearing for the Wasps "A" team 10 days ago. "I really want to get back into it."
Alas, all he has had to satisfy this competitive yearning so far is the puffer-coat role; twice being one of the few unused replacements. With the Six Nations squad due to be announced in a month's time, time is of the essence for Cipriani and for that reason he will resist thanking the Wasps coaching staff for reintroducing him slowly. "It's nice to know we can bring guys back gently when we have other players playing so well," Hanks said. "Danny is fit, but these battles with Bayonne are going to be fairly torrid."
The New Zealander cannot be contradicted on that count. The Challenge Cup may well be the unloved relation in European club rugby but, as Hanks says, "this is going to be Test-match stuff". If Wasps win they will all but qualify for the quarter-finals, while Bayonne are well capable of switching the momentum. They may be lying one place off the bottom of France's Top 14, but sides of the calibre of Stade Français and Bourgoin have been accounted for this season already at Stade Jean Dauger.
Harlequins confirmed yesterday that Conor O'Shea has been appointed as the director of rugby, at last filling the position left vacant by Dean Richards in August in the wake of "Bloodgate". O'Shea was chosen off an impressive shortlist. Also interviewed were Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach, Frank Hadden, the former Scottish coach Tony Diprose, the club's academy manager, and Gary Gold, the South Africa assistant coach. O'Shea, however, will not be joining up at the Stoop until March.
The former Ireland international has to work a period of notice at the England Institute of Sport, where he has been the national director for 18 months. "I knew this was a challenge I had to take on," said the 39-year-old.
* The French internationals Julien Dupuy and David Attoub will face a disciplinary panel in Dublin today on charges of gouging Stephen Ferris last weekend. The Stade Français pair, who have apologised for their "idiotic" conduct in the win over Ulster, face bans of 12 weeks.Reuse content