Wasps winger Tom Varndell has had another exemplary, try-filled season, and has admitted that a call-up to the England squad this summer would be the perfect way to cap a successful year. “I’m desperate to play for my country again,” he says. “I think if I finish the season strongly I’ll have every chance of breaking onto that summer tour to Argentina. I know that if I continue playing well then I’ll get that shot that I really, really want.”
Varndell has not played for England since 2008, in an international career that saw him win four caps sporadically between 2006-2008. He says that head coach Lancaster has kept in the loop over the course of the season. “Just before the last squad was announced for the Six Nations I spoke to him. He just told me I was playing well and told me what I needed to focus on, and to just keep aiming for that summer tour.”
It would seem, then, that Varndell is firmly in Lancaster’s plans for the summer tour to Argentina. Of course, at the time the head coach’s comments may have presupposed the fact that one or more of Chris Ashton, Mike Brown and Alex Goode would be busy in Australia – that looks less likely now than it did then. So it could come down to whether Lancaster wants to grant Varndell another chance, or give the likes of Ashton an opportunity to find some form. There are very few fans in the country that would begrudge Varndell a chance over Ashton, whose international form has faltered alarming of late.
Varndell insists, however, that a rough patch is all part and parcel of professional rugby. “Ashton’s proved that he’s a try-scorer and he’s proved it at the highest level as well,” comments Varndell. “Every player goes through lower periods, and I don’t believe he was playing that badly. When you do so well in a season then players tend to focus on you a little bit more in the following season.”
Varndell himself has never really suffered that kind of drought, as such – when he has been on the pitch, that is. Something soured during his time at Leicester and a frustrating lack of opportunities saw him turn to great rivals of the time Wasps, for whom he will win his 100th cap this weekend against Exeter – if he is selected, as he notes modestly.
“When I came here I was at quite a low point in my career,” says the rejuvenated Varndell. “I wasn’t playing particularly well and they gave me a chance to really get on top of my form. The coaches that were here then – Shaun Edwards and Tony Hanks – they gave me the confidence to start playing well again. I’ve played some of my best rugby here, and enjoyed it as well. The boys here are all good mates and we get on really well.”
There’s no doubt that Varndell has added a razor-sharp finishing edge to Wasps’ game, but they are far from the finished article. They need to win their final two games to salvage a season that has seen them slide out of the top four into eighth, and to the brink of European wilderness next season. He is under no illusions about the hard work that is needed over the next few weeks.
“The last few games have been tough (Wasps have lost their last five in a row) – we narrowly lost to Northampton at home, and that set everything off really. The coaches have made it really clear that we’ve got standards to meet, and we didn’t meet them at the weekend (against the Tigers).”
One of the great success stories of his time at Wasps, particularly over the last couple of seasons, has been his partnership with fellow flyer Christian Wade – their partnership is undoubtedly the most dangerous in the Premiership. But what are Varndell’s thoughts on his partner’s chances of making the Lions tour, as one of those now infamous ‘bolters’?
“Christian’s been on fantastic form this year, and some of the tries he’s scored have been pretty special,” he notes in a non-committal manner. “Would I take him? Yes, whether I was Lions coach or England coach I would want Christian in any one of my teams.”
Varndell went on to outline the crushing disappointment that a failure to qualify for Europe’s top competition would bring with it. “After playing Leinster at home a couple of weeks ago we got a real taste for what playing Heineken Cup rugby would be like at the club next season, and now we’re desperate for that,” he says. “The players want nothing more than to be in the Heineken Cup – it’s the best competition you can be in at club level.”
For now, then, Varndell’s focus is on one final push for Wasps to secure Heineken Cup rugby next season. But if they do that, and he adds another couple of tries to his already impressive tally of 12 on the way, it would not be surprising to see him tearing down the wing in England colours this summer.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
London Wasps are working with BRITA, sponsors of the London Wasps Community Foundation, running CoacHclasses for kids throughout the summer holidays and supporting grassroots rugby in the community.