Cipriani survives return unscathed

London Wasps 23 Bath 27

A near-capacity crowd cheered Danny Cipriani on his return to action, which lasted an encouraging if plainly exhausting 51 minutes, but they would have been more pleased if Bath had not waltzed off with a bonus point win which put them top of the Premiership. For Wasps, the champions, it was their fourth defeat in five matches this season.

Cipriani said it was fate that dictated his comeback would be against Bath, the same opponents when he fractured and dislocated his right ankle here just under 20 weeks ago.

The portents for his side's title defence continue to be dodgy. Shaun Edwards railed angrily at an eccentric piece of refereeing when Sean Davey overruled the signal from both his touch judges that Cipriani had kicked a penalty goal in the 29th minute but the Wasps head coach could not deny Bath's superiority. "Their offence was absolutely on song," Edwards said.

The only plan that Wasps stuck to coherently was that which gave Cipriani a half and a bit to ease his way back.

It is one thing for the fly-half to be photographed for a magazine, James Bond-style, with near-naked lovelies draped over him; quite another to play Thunderball in the face of Bath's marauding forwards, among whom the prop Matt Stevens was rightly singled out as "the dominant player" by Edwards.

"I was rusty and I made a couple of mistakes," said Cipriani, who was also mystified by Davey's penalty ruling. "I'm glad to have got through, and now I want to get a run of games, but I'm disappointed for the loss."

Bath led 12-0 after 15 minutes through tries by Michael Claassens – a confident leap by Cipriani to claim Nick Abendanon's kick only delivered it to the onrushing Bath hooker Pieter Dixon – and Stevens, who piled past a weak tackle from Raphaël Ibañez.

Either side of the penalty which wasn't – Wasps' miniscule posts hardly help the officials – Cipriani kicked goals in the 19th and 31st minutes. Then he sent Riki Flutey knifing through Bath's defence to claim a smart try with a little help from Tom Palmer.

A conversion and third penalty by Cipriani left Wasps, improbably, 16-12 up at half-time.

Such is the hope vested in Cipriani after just three caps for England that talk had turned before last night to the 20-year-old's inclusion for the November internationals.

The red tape which prevents his inclusion in the senior England squad unless an incumbent is injured or suspended looks to have been torn up by the dislocated left knee suffered by Jonny Wilkinson on Tuesday: a lengthy absence, possibly up to three months, is expected to be confirmed by a specialist today.

Cipriani may come back bigger and quicker according to his coaches, but he would have needed an elephant gun to bring down a galloping Stevens three minutes into the second half, as Dixon plunged over for Bath's third try. It was nip and tuck for a while: a penalty by James and his imperious conversion of Joe Maddock's bonus point score at the right corner in the 61st minute came either side of Tom Rees's try for Wasps converted by Cipriani's replacement, Jeremy Staunton. But in a concluding quarter of knock-ons and wrong options Wasps – who had won all three meetings with Bath last season – had their many woes laid bare.

London Wasps: Tries Flutey, Rees; Conversions Cipriani, Staunton; Penalties Cipriani 3.

Bath: Tries Claassens, Stevens, Dixon, Maddock; Conversions James 2; Penalties James.

London Wasps: T Voyce; P Sackey, D Waldouck, R Flutey, J Lewsey; D Cipriani (J Staunton, 51), E Reddan (M Robinson, 73); T Payne (T French, 74), R Ibanez (capt, R Webber, 62), P Vickery, S Shaw, T Palmer (R Birkett, 71), J Worsley (J Haskell, 26), J Hart, T Rees.

Bath: N Abendanon; J Maddock, A Crockett, S Berne, J Cuthbert (A Higgins, 62); B James, M Claassens; D Barnes (D Bell, 62), P Dixon (L Mears 23-35, 62), M Stevens, J Harrison, P Short, S Hooper, J Faamatuainu, M Lipman (capt, J Scaysbrook, 40).

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).

* Leicester Tigers, beaten 28-19 by Wasps last Friday, left it late to beat Northampton Saints 29-19 at Welford Road last night. Their head coach Heyneke Meyer said: "I'm very proud of the guys. They played great rugby in the first half, but we didn't execute. I thought if we kept pressuring them in the second half, the tries would come and that's how it turned out."

11

Points scored by Danny Cipriani on his 51-minute comeback for London Wasps.

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