Danny Cipriani kicked 11 points on his comeback from last season’s horrific injury but he could not save struggling champions Wasps from their fourth GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP defeat in five matches this season.
The 20-year-old fly-half, who was plunged straight into the starting line-up as he returned six weeks ahead of schedule from his ankle injury, was withdrawn after 51 minutes. In that time he overcame a shaky start in which Bath capitalised on his failure to collect a high kick to score their opening try.
Cipriani, who was playing against the same opponents and on the same ground where he sustained his injury, landed three penalties and converted Riki Flutey’s first-half try as Wasps overcame an early 12-point deficit to lead 16-12 at half-time.
The original forecast that the youngster would not return until November resulted in England manager Martin Johnson omitting him from the 32-man elite squad from which he is allowed to select for the autumn internationals.
But that door is now open again after Jonny Wilkinson dislocated his right knee playing for Newcastle in yesterday night’s 39-23 defeat at Gloucester.
Cipriani proved there are no question marks over his fitness but he clearly needs a few more matches to re-establish his England credentials.
All eyes may have been on Cipriani but the performance of the match came from Bath’s rampaging England prop Matt Stevens.
He scored one try and set up two others for scrum-half Michael Claassens and hooker Pieter Dixon in the first half with his surging runs through the middle before the visitors secured their four-try bonus point when right-wing Joe Maddock crossed in the 60th minute.
Maddock’s try, converted from the touchline by South African World Cup winner Butch James after the winger burst over in the right-hand corner, proved decisive.
It came a minute after Wasps had taken the lead for the second time, going 23-20 up as their pack drove flanker Tom Rees over near the right corner flag, with Cipriani’s replacement Jeremy Staunton adding the points with a difficult touchline conversion.
It was scant consolation for Staunton, who could consider himself unlucky to make way for Cipriani after his immaculate kicking display contributed 23 points to Wasps’ 28-19 victory at Leicester last Friday, which ended their three-match losing start to the season.
A losing bonus point was little consolation for the struggling champions, whose defensive frailties once again contributed to their downfall.
They had little answer to the power of the hugely impressive Stevens, who wreaked havoc as he exploited the big gaps Wasps left down the middle.
Only a week after returning to full-contact training, Cipriani had a less-than-auspicious start.
He was involved from the first minute, when he was tackled into touch by Bath flanker Stuart Hooper, but then came off second best in an exchange of high kicks with James.
Under pressure when his kick was returned, he spilled the ball, Stevens powered through and Claassens squeezed in for the sixth-minute try.
Nine minutes later the Wasps defence was breached again as Stevens charged through the middle to touch down between the posts, leaving James an easy conversion.
The champions were on the rack for much of the first half but managed to limit the damage before clawing their way into a 16-12 half-time lead.
Cipriani launched the revival with an 18th-minute penalty after Bath were caught offside in front of their own posts.
He was denied a second success in the 33rd minute when referee Sean Davey ruled his penalty was off target even though his touch judges raised their flags.
Two minutes later there was no doubt when Cipriani hit the target after Bath’s Australian lock Justin Harrison was penalised for stamping on Wasps number eight John Hart, who appeared to be concealing the ball on the ground.
Wasps went ahead against the run of play in the 33rd minute. Centre Flutey burst from deep, found the supporting Tom Palmer and followed up to collect and score as the England lock passed off the floor as he was dragged down.
On the stroke of half-time, Cipriani stretched the Wasps advantage to four points, with a long-range penalty from just inside the Bath half, but the visitors re-established their supremacy in the second half for a deserved victory.