The last time Wasps played Bath at Adams Park, in last season's Guinness Premiership semi-final, the brilliant young outside-half Danny Cipriani wrecked his right ankle so comprehensively that grown men felt sick at the sight of the damage and experienced coaches feared England's latest potential world-beater would spend at least a year struggling to beat anything more substantial than an egg. Yet when Bath return to High Wycombe next Wednesday night, they may, miraculously, face Cipriani again.
If the West Countrymen would rather the most dynamic playmaking midfielder in the country delayed his comeback just a little longer, the rest of the red-rose nation will celebrate his return in the way they once toasted Jonny Wilkinson's regular recoveries from orthopaedic trauma. Cipriani had been expected to miss the first three months of the season at the very minimum, having suffered a fracture dislocation that left his non-kicking foot bent at an angle previously unknown to geometry. Instead, he looks like getting himself back on the field eight weeks earlier than even the greatest optimists anticipated.
"It's going to be emotional," he said last night in a television interview with Sky Sports, confirming his intention to feature on the replacements' bench. "I'll have to calm myself a bit... I had doubts about returning and I voiced my opinions, but my friends told me to be quiet and get on with it. That's what I've tried to do."
Cipriani, still five weeks or so shy of his 21st birthday, admitted memories of the injury were still fresh in his mind. "I remember my body going numb and not feeling too much pain," he said, "but when I looked at my ankle, my brain told me I was meant to feel pain, so I suddenly did. My surgeon, James Calder, did a fantastic job. I'm glad I saw the X-rays that evening because they showed the ankle was dead straight. I could see it was going to realign properly and that everything would be fine in the end."
Assuming his early rugby goes to plan, England's new manager, Martin Johnson, will be sorely tempted to involve him in the November international series at Twickenham – possibly towards the back end, when last year's World Cup runners-up meet the champions, South Africa, and New Zealand in consecutive weeks. Cipriani is not in the 32-man elite party, but has been included in the second-string Saxons squad and could, form and fitness willing, be promoted.
Had the youngster put together a full season of Test rugby last time out, he might have made the shortlist for the International Rugby Board's Player of the Year award. As it is, three Celts will fight the British corner: two Welshmen, the wing Shane Williams and the No 8 Ryan Jones, along with the Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair. Italy's captain, Sergio Parisse, and the All Black outside-half Dan Carter are the other contenders.
Williams is the early favourite, but Warren Gatland, who coached the Red Dragonhood to a Grand Slam last season, extolled the virtues of both his charges. "To have two players rated in the top five of the world game is a high accolade," he said.
The number of England appearances made by Danny Cipriani.