Tom Varndell had one more yesterday to remind England ’s management that he is still the fastest and most prolific try scoring winger in English rugby before the squad for the 2013 RBS Six Nations is announced on Wednesday.
Stuart Lancaster and his fellow England coaches decided to select two full backs on the wing last June and then again during the autumn tests, with first Ben Foden moving out to accommodate Alex Goode in South Africa in the summer, and then Mike Brown the same in November.
Meanwhile Varndell, an out and out winger, leads the Aviva Premiership try scoring table with ten already this season, five more than second-placed fellow London Wasps Christian Wade, and looks certain to end the season as leading scorer for an incredible fourth time.
He also sits on 70 tries in total in the Premiership, and third place in the all-time list. Judging by the rate of knots he is scoring this season he may well catch the joint highest scorers, the retired Sale winger Steve Hanley and his former teammate and current Shark, Mark Cueto, who both have 75 tries to their name.
Yesterday he failed to add to his tally as Wasps, almost relegated and declared bankrupt last May, beat Bath at home to continue their resurgence that sees them now fourth in the Premiership.
Varndell has won four caps for England , scoring three tries in the process, but his last test was back in 2008 in New Zealand , and since then he has been made surplus to requirements.
“I’d be lying if I denied being massively frustrated by it but all I can do is keep on scoring and hope the England management take notice,” explains the 27-year-old.
“There was a perception that I was poor in defence and I’d agree with that, at least when it came to my positional play. I was a naïve rugby player and got found out a little at the highest level as a result.
“It took me 18 months to get my confidence back but once I started working with Shaun Edwards at Wasps everything about my defence – my positional sense, my spatial awareness, my kicking and, of course, my tackling – improved out of sight. Being injured for the best part of 18 months hardly helped my cause either, but now I’m back and scoring tries again.
“I do see it as a mission when I’m facing England guys ahead of me in the pecking order to outshine them in a game and, of course, it was frustrating to see full backs – albeit exceptional rugby players – selected as wingers for England , but that’s out of my hands. All I can do is play as well as I can and hope I get a chance.”
Most rugby players insist the only thing that matters is winning and, although Varndell says the same he is honest enough to admit scoring is also vital to his weekly happiness.
“I know some players make out they don’t care or know about records or tries but it means a great deal to me. I know how many tries I’ve scored this season and every season, and I’m very aware that I now have 70 and need five more to equal the record.
I’m going for it. I’m happy if we win, but I’m happier if I score in a Wasps win. My last try felt as good as my first ever. It’s the best feeling in the world to go over that line.”
It helps that he plays for a Wasps team that has made a miraculous comeback after only securing their Premiership survival on the last day of last season, and who nearly went bust.
Then they played a host of young players but those youngsters, such as England lock Joe Launchbury and England hopefuls Billy Vunipola and Elliot Daly are older and better for the experience, and with new signings such as James Haskell and Tom Palmer bolstering the ranks, Wasps are pressing for the play-offs.
“Last season, although very scary, did us a world of good,” Varndell admits. “I honestly didn’t know where I’d be playing this season, in which division, for whom, or even at all. I think a shock to the system has been a good experience for us all because none of us want to return to that.
“We’re enjoying our rugby a lot more this season as a result and, of course, we have some incredible young talent who have gone from boys to men in the past year. Joe
Launchbury’s already made an impact with England and I expect Billy Vunipola to do the same very soon. Their skills-set for forwards are incredible.”