Danny Cipriani will leave Sale Sharks to re-join his former club Wasps on a two-year-deal at the end of the 2015/16 season.
The fly-half's departure - rumoured on and off for the best part of the last three seasons - was first reported by The Daily Mail late Monday night before Wasps confirmed 'The Homecoming' on Tuesday afternoon. Sale Sharks have not publicly commented.
Cipriani joined Sale from Melbourne Rebels in 2012 and over the course of three-and-a-half seasons has made 91 first-team appearances, scored 697 points, shed his 'problem child' label and developed into one of the finest all-round fly-halves in the country. The 28-year-old's omission from both Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones' England squads last, and this year, respectively was met with understandable outcry considering Cipriani's consistently strong domestic form for Sale despite a somewhat challenging first year in Manchester in 2012/13.
A generational attacking talent, Cipriani has been the star attraction at Sale for going on three seasons now. To steal an 'Americanism' - he is the current face of the Sale Sharks franchise; the image splashed out on every bit of marketing, the player the kids want to meet, the big-name to put bums on seats (in theory). So for Sale to lose him, it is a bitter, bitter blow, especially for a smaller club that helped mould Cipriani on his return to England in 2012 from a gifted but troubled young star into the outstanding player he is today. To see Cipriani leave Sale for Wasps - who have already announced the signing of fellow Shark Tommy Taylor for next season - just compounds matters.
Understandably the announcement has been met with universal disappointment from Sale fans. Cipriani wasn't the perfect fly-half by any stretch but he is the calibre of player who can conjure a game-winning moment out of thin air - something he has done many times for Sale in recent years - and to have one of those rare players, although they can be occasionally frustrating, is a source of pride for many supporters, myself included.
What is even more disheartening is what it suggests for Sale's ambitions in the near future on and off the field. Cipriani initially penned a two-year extension in January of 2015, although it soon emerged the contract contained a break clause allowing Cipriani to end his obligations with the club prematurely should he desire. For Cipriani to have activated that clause then, and agreed to jump ship to Wasps, simply suggests Sale can no longer match the levels of ambition desired by their poster boy (or indeed Tommy Taylor). Its hard to blame him; the supposed investment promised to Cipriani by the club as he extended his contract to become a serious competitive force in the Premiership and Europe never materialised beyond the acquisition of Tighthead Brian Mujati.
The allure of Wasps meanwhile is apparent - huge crowds, an exciting brand of rugby, Champions Cup participation, a star-studded squad and genuine silverware ambitions dwarf anything Sale can offer, at least at this moment in time.
So where do Sale go from here?
Cipriani will unquestionably be a huge loss, but he is not irreplaceable, and his departure might not have the on-field ramifications some are suggesting.
First and foremost the Sharks must reverse the trend of the bad press Cipriani's departure will inevitably generate around the club. The best to way to do that is to ensure that Cipriani's sizeable wages (I have it on good authority he is the highest paid player at the club) are re-invested in full back into the playing squad, especially towards a similarly high-profile replacement.
Sale are not just losing their starting fly-half, they are also losing their 'big ticket'. Securing a similar calibre of player is essential if they want to remain relevant in the overflowing sporting market of North-West England and to calm supporters' fears that the club have no ambition beyond treading water in the Premiership's lower mid-table.
Secondly, for as unique as Cipriani is as a playmaker (and increasingly as a tackling fly-half), there are still sizeable gaps in his game.
Many speculate - not without reason - that Cipriani's continued exile from international rugby is down to his below-average place-kicking ability. Indeed this season (and forgive me that I do not have conclusive statistics), Cipriani has missed close to 50 points off the tee, including important penalty and drop goal attempts that cost Sale dearly in losses to Gloucester and Harlequins. If Sale can procure a fly-half with a reputation of a metronomic kicker, the team will be in a far stronger position to play 'sucker punch' rugby against stronger teams and in gaining field position - Cipriani has a tendency to be overly conservative with his kicks to touch.
This season's arrival of Paul Deacon as attack/backs coach meanwhile and his focus on ensuring Sale take a simpler, more basic approach to attacking stratagem has seen the club come to depend less on Cipriani to create one of his signature 'out of nothing' moments to help win games. Sale are playing exciting, attacking, and most importantly, winning rugby on a gameplan built on their near-unstoppable pack with a focus on simplicity and intelligent decision-making when the ball is moved to their backline. Having Cipriani's creativity and vision is obviously of benefit to this style but there is no longer a dependence on Cipriani to be the sole cog in Sale's backs play like there was two seasons ago.
If Sale can find a fly-half who can flash some of the inventive offensive capabilities Cipriani possesses whilst also offering a much stronger and consistent place-kicking option, Cipriani can be replaced.
On the one hand, to see Cipriani leave is a huge blow; he is very much the star player on the pitch every club and marketing department lusts after. But on the other, part of me is thankful I won't have to wake up to a new Cipriani-to-Toulon rumour everyday.
The idea that Cipriani has betrayed the club as I have heard some people suggest is simply ludicrous; Sale will have agreed to the break clause when negotiating his contract extension last season so nothing has been done underhand and nobody has been deceived. I don't even buy the idea he strung Sale along whilst making his mind up - this was clearly a hard decision to make and Cipriani has been a loyal servant to Sale.
Cipriani gave four of his very best years to Sale and chose to remain with the club last season despite the temptation of big money in Toulon and in London. No, he would not be the player he is today without Sale and Steve Diamond finally helping him mature, but sports operate very much on quid pro quo and Cipriani has repaid Sale's assistance with a number of truly astonishing performances in his three-and-a-half-years in blue so far.
It truly will be a shame to see Cipriani depart but moving back to Wasps, above anybody else, makes sense. And this is hardly the end of the world for Sale, a top-class replacement and the club and its supporters will be optimistic again. Plus we've had three years' worth of Cipriani leaving rumours, it had to happen eventually.
Lewis Hughes believes if Sale can get over losing Charlie Hodgson, they can get over losing Danny Cipriani. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions.