When Danny Cipriani runs out at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday to make his debut for Bath, his fourth Gallagher Premiership club , against former side Sale, his latest employers will be hoping it marks the start of a new era.
Bath, the dominant force in the country during the early 1990s, were last in the play-offs two seasons ago, finishing in fourth place after an impressive late surge. The problem is that for a club of Bath's fading stature, those semi-final appearances, let alone league titles, have been all too rare. Since the Premiership play-offs were introduced in 2002-03, Bath have reached the semi-finals six times in 19 seasons.
There has been no lack of investment in top international players, and there is arguably no better training ground in the country than Farleigh House. And as much as it felt as though Bath were on to something two seasons ago, having made strides with the performance of their pack under director of rugby Stuart Hooper and buoyed by the arrival of scrum-half Ben Spencer, there was a regression last season as they slipped back into seventh.
Several of the key building blocks have been in place over the past decade, but the subsequent league silverware has never arrived. Which is where Cipriani comes in.
Bath, by their own admission, were too wedded to bulldozing over from close range last season, particularly in their Challenge Cup semi-final defeat at home by Montpellier, when there appeared to be a disconnect between the power up front and the weapons out wide.
And while Bath ranked fifth in the Premiership last season, averaging three tries per game, those scores were largely thanks to their forwards, with the attack ranking in the bottom half of the league.
What Bath are really hoping for is that Cipriani, 33, can make a similar impact in his first season at the Rec to the thrills of his debut campaign with Gloucester. The fly-half arrived at Kingsholm in 2018 and took a side who had also finished the previous season in seventh and were looking for some impetus, up to third place, their first play-off appearance in eight years.
Gloucester finished that season averaging more points, tries, clean breaks, defenders beaten and time in possession than the previous campaign without Cipriani.
In that 2018-19 season at Gloucester, Cipriani smashed his previous season highs for carries, clean breaks and try assists. He is three years older but, as noted by Hooper, well rested. "He has had a year out of the game but you can still see the quality he has. He's like someone with an ACL [injury] — nine months out," Hooper said.
"The positive side of it is he's had an opportunity to refresh, an opportunity to think a bit differently and come back excited and energised to play the game."
For Sam Underhill, the Bath and England flanker , Ciprani's communication skills have already stood out during pre-season.
"He's been brilliant. He's obviously a very talented player but his decision-making is really good on the ball. But he's also so far a very good communicator, at explaining to different players the different styles, what he wants and how he sees the game. He's not just a good player – he's helping others to develop their games and, from a team perspective, has given us clarity about what we're after in attack.
"I think Danny will be good for us, but what we're gaining from Danny, other lads and Dave Williams [new attack coach] is an understanding of how we want to play the game, which everyone can get after. If you have that, it sees you through a season of 22 games. You need everyone in the squad contributing and pulling their weight, and that's what we're trying to get to."
Cipriani, according to Hooper, also has unfinished business. It is 13 years since the then Wasps full-back suffered a devastating ankle dislocation in the Premiership semi-final win against (of all teams) Bath, forcing him to miss Wasps' title triumph in the subsequent final.
Winning a second league title, with Bath, remains firmly on Cipriani's radar.
"It was very clear to me that he had an incredible desire to compete and get back out and win the Premiership; he had a real burning ambition to do that," Hooper said, recalling when he first met with Cipriani about signing.
"You can go into meetings like that in a few ways. You can go in thinking, 'I am definitely going to sign this player' or 'I am just double-checking'. I went into the Danny meeting thinking, 'This is a really exciting prospect, I am going to ask the questions and then reflect on it.'
"I came out of the meeting buzzing because he was so energised and enthused about what he could achieve in the Bath jersey with the people that we've got. I felt it was absolutely the right thing for this club."
If Cipriani's attacking wizardry can spark Bath into life and return the club to play-offs, then he will prove to be an inspired bit of business.
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