Cipriani set to decide Wasps future

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The Independent Online

Wasps, heartily bored with a second successive round of prolonged contract negotiations with their disaffected outside-half Danny Cipriani, expect to be told within the next fortnight whether they can bank on his services for next season. Cipriani has been heavily linked with a move to the new professional rugby franchise in Australia, the Melbourne Rebels, even though Rod Macqueen, the Rebels coach, recently declared that the 22-year-old Londoner was "not the player we want right now".

It is widely acknowledged that Macqueen, who guided his country to the World Cup in 1999, wants the Wallaby midfielder Berrick Barnes to front up his challenge in next year's expanded Super 15 competition. There again, Barnes plays a good deal of his rugby in the centre while Cipriani does a regular turn at full-back. It is not inconceivable the two could play in the same side, although together they would cost the Rebels the equivalent of a pot of gold.

None of this much concerns the Wasps management, who simply want the thing done and dusted one way or the other. After protracted discussions a year ago, they hung on to England's richest midfield talent for another season, and Cipriani continues to insist, at least in public, that his "first loyalty" is to the club that nurtured him. But those closest to him say he feels he has little or no international future under the current England regime and thinks a two-year stint in the southern hemisphere, playing against the likes of Dan Carter and Matt Giteau, might do him a power of good in the long run.

Meanwhile, another of Wasps' international backs, the wing Paul Sackey, has agreed terms with the free-spending French Top 14 club Toulon and will move to Provence at the end of the season. Toulon, coached by Philippe Saint-André, have raided the Premiership talent bank with some regularity, luring Jonny Wilkinson, Rory Lamont and Tom May across the Channel.

Wales suffered another blow on the personnel front yesterday when Gareth Williams, the hooker who has started both Six Nations matches to date, was ruled out of the game with France in Cardiff a week today. The Cardiff Blues front-rower is suffering from knee trouble and joins the Lions hooker Matthew Rees on an ever-expanding casualty list. Huw Bennett, the Ospreys player, is likely to fill the gap, with the uncapped Scarlets forward Ken Owens on the bench.

There are signs of light on the scrum-half front, however. Two Test Lions, Michael Phillips and Dwayne Peel, are ready to return to competitive club action after ill-timed lay-offs, and one of them may be fast-tracked into the 22-man squad for the meeting with the French.