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Sale 20-19 Bath: Danny Cipriani feels the pain as head injury ruins Englishman's comeback

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Sale 20-19 Bath: Danny Cipriani feels the pain as head injury spoils Englishman’s long-awaited comeback… as star is forced to watch on as new team-mates fall to Sharks

  • Bath travelled to face Sale Sharks in the Gallagher Premiership on Saturday 
  • Danny Cipriani made his debut for his new squad after a year out of rugby  
  • Cipriani was clattered by Rohan Janse van Rensburg and had to go off
  • Bath fought back from 17-0 down to lead but couldn’t see it out 


There was no shortage of irony as ‘Oh Danny Boy’ piped through the AJ Bell Stadium’s sound system. Bath’s new No 10 got knocked down but, contrary to the next line of the Chumbawamba lyrics, he struggled to get back up again. The debut was cut short.

Danny Cipriani’s return to rugby, after almost a year away from the sport, did not follow the script. Clobbered by Rohan Janse van Rensburg in the second half, the playmaker was hauled off for a head injury assessment, before watching an unlikely victory slip through his new team’s fingers.

Bath had clawed their way back from a 17-0 deficit, with 19 unanswered points, but they could not finish the job. In the final play of their second-half comeback, Cipriani’s understudy, Orlando Bailey, had a shot at victory but his penalty kick fell just short of the posts.

Danny Cipriani's debut ended in disaster as he had to go off injured before Bath were defeated

Danny Cipriani’s debut ended in disaster as he had to go off injured before Bath were defeated

Relieved Sale boss Alex Sanderson admitted: ‘My heart rate was horrendous — I am sure they do it on purpose. I have DLPNP written on my hand — “Don’t let the pressure negate the pleasure” — the pressure negated the pleasure today!

‘It should have been a 30-point game. We were a point down with five to go and found a way to win. That is their super-power — they don’t give up.’

Until the 35th minute, young scrum-half Raffi Quirke was on course to steal the headlines. Operating behind a dominant pack, he injected all of the tempo into the contest.

He was liveliest around the ruck, darting past forwards and catching defenders off guard with tap-and-go penalties.

Sale Sharks went 17-0 ahead and almost threw it but were able to answer Bath's comeback

Sale Sharks went 17-0 ahead and almost threw it but were able to answer Bath’s comeback

There were no England coaches here at the AJ Bell, but word of Quirke’s display will no doubt have been filtering back to Eddie Jones, before he limped off with an injury.

The 20-year-old darted through a doglegged hole in Bath’s defence and offloaded for Byron McGuigan’s try, but that proved to be his final act.

‘Raffi’s on fire and the advice I’ve had so far about the injury is that he’ll be good to go,’ said Sanderson. ‘He’s only young and if he’s going to get fast-tracked, it just depends how fast he gets fast-tracked.

‘He looks like he’s ready, doesn’t he? Some nines see the gaps, like George Gregan. Raffi’s got the ability to see them and go through them. He’s a Faf de Klerk in the making.’

With Ben Curry and Ben Spencer also cutting downbeat figures as they withdrew before half-time with injuries, there was an early reminder of the attritional nature of the Premiership. Sale’s physicality was there for all to see, with Akker van der Merwe’s lineout drive try and the hit-and-miss boot of Rob du Preez giving the hosts a 17-0 lead.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg clattered Cipriani before helping his team to a narrow victory

Rohan Janse van Rensburg clattered Cipriani before helping his team to a narrow victory  

In the second half, the momentum swung. With Simon Hammersley in the sinbin, Cipriani kicked six points before his enforced exit. Bath fixed their ill-discipline and won three scrum penalties of their own, while Will Muir, Tom de Glanville and Sam Underhill made dangerous line breaks.

‘You want to win but equally you want to develop your game,’ said Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper. ‘We were stressing Sale with ball in hand more than we would have done previously. Making line breaks is outstanding but when we make an outbreak down the edge, what’s the next play? You want to build pressure or score.’

Replacement prop Juan Schoeman scored after combining with Miles Reid, before quickfire penalties from Bailey gave Bath a two-point lead going into the closing stages.

Yet Sale struck back and, after all of the build-up had focused on Cipriani, it was Sale’s Kieran Wilkinson, a 21-year-old from Blackpool, who kicked the winner.

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