Danny Cipriani’s ribs may be in a mess, but his sense of humour remains intact. “I feel as though I’ve been hit by a bus,” said the celebrity outside-half, a few hours after being hit by… a bus. He was not the only person to see the amusing side of a distinctly unfunny incident that catapulted him back into the news for all the wrong reasons. “He must be well out of form if he can’t sidestep something moving that slowly,” remarked one senior member of the Sale club.
Cipriani spent Wednesday night in a Leeds hospital following an accident during an end-of-season bash with his colleagues, who had donned fancy dress before embarking on a pub crawl known locally as the Otley Run. Unfortunately for the 25-year-old England midfielder, he ran at the wrong moment and ended up in the care of the emergency services. According to a spokesman for the First Bus company, police quickly absolved the driver of all blame.
The player was discharged from hospital today after being treated for bruised ribs and suspected concussion. He is most unlikely to feature in Sale’s home match with Wasps at the Saltford City Stadium next weekend – the last fixture in a traumatic domestic campaign that could easily have seen the northerners relegated from the Premiership – but his short-term future is not the point at issue. Some Sale supporters are thinking long-term in wondering whether he will still be at the club next season.
One of the more troubled souls in English rugby, Cipriani produced the odd moment of attacking genius following his return from a brief spell of Super 15 rugby in Australia last summer: he turned in a match-winning Heineken Cup performance against Cardiff Blues before Christmas and created one of the tries of the season in laying the foundations for an important bottom-of-the-table victory at London Welsh in February. But his form in recent weeks has been a long way short of vintage and it was no surprise when Sale dropped him to the bench for the league run-in.
There have been constant rumours linking him with another move, with Wasps, the club who nurtured him as a youngster and gave him the platform to launch what once promised to be a stellar international career, mentioned most frequently. A Sale spokesman said that there was no prospect of him leaving the north-west, but Cipriani is nothing if not unpredictable.
There is no disciplinary dimension to this latest incident and it cannot be placed in the same category as his brushes with successive England managements or his occasional indiscretions in Australia, where he played for the newly formed Melbourne Rebels before signing for Sale. But it will inevitably lead to more debate about his chances of fulfilling the rich promise he showed as a 20-year-old, when he dislodged Jonny Wilkinson from the red rose starting line-up and ran rings round Ireland in the final match of the 2008 Six Nations.
Another lavishly gifted midfield playmaker who has become something of a lost spirit will spearhead Perpignan’s attempt to reach the final of the Amlin Challenge Cup by beating Stade Français on Friday night in the first of this weekend’s major European knock-out ties. James Hook, a British and Irish Lion in South Africa four years ago but not considered a serious contender for this summer’s trek around Australia, starts at outside-half for the Catalans in a side also featuring the Scotland flanker Alasdair Strokosch and the former England No 8 Luke Narraway, who joined from Gloucester this time last year.
As neither Perpignan nor Stade Français have qualified for the play-off stage of the French Top 14 tournament, this evening’s meeting on the Spanish border has a good deal riding on it. Perpignan could lose and still find themselves in the draw for next season’s elite Heineken Cup competition – France will claim a seventh qualifying place if either Clermont Auvergne or Toulon win the big prize next month, and the Catalans finished seventh in their domestic league – but for their opponents it is win or bust.
The aforementioned Wilkinson, still one of the biggest box-office names in the sport, will captain Toulon in their Heineken semi-final with Saracens at Twickenham on Sunday. The World Cup-winning outside-half leads a squad of all the talents, drawn from every corner of the rugby-playing landscape. Two recent signings, the Wallaby flanker Rocky Elsom and the Springbok forward Danie Rossouw, have been named in a 20-man squad, along with the ever-mercurial Frederic Michalak, freshly recovered from injury.
Meanwhile, trophy-hungry Bath have staged another raid on London Irish, luring two of the Exiles’ brightest academy products to the Recreation Ground. Anthony Watson, a 19-year-old full-back, and David Sisi, a 20-year-old loose forward who weighs in at 120kg, were part of the England age-group side who successfully defended their Six Nations crown in March.
The West Countrymen have two former London Irish coaches, Toby Booth and Neal Hatley, on their back-room roster and recently completed the signings of two regular Exiles first-teamers: the England centre Jonathan Joseph and the versatile back-five forward Matt Garvey.