Tom Varndell has endured, in his own words, his “worst season ever”, in terms of injuries, rupturing his bicep on two separate occasions. It has seen him miss a whole lot of rugby.
“It’s been bloody frustrating,” he reflects. “Doing your bicep is brutal, but doing it again – it broke me. I was pretty low after that.”
As he targets a return to action this weekend in ‘The Stinger’ against Gloucester at Twickenham, Varndell admits that the ultimate goal, as unlikely as it may seem right now, is to run out onto the same turf in an England jersey.
“The day I don’t want to play for England is probably the day I hang up my boots,” he says. “You’ve got to have that desire to keep improving, and keep bettering yourself.
“I’ve got a point to prove; I want to play for England, there’s a World Cup next year. You’ve always got to be chasing that pinnacle of playing for your country. I’m 28 – I’m not ancient. If I’m playing better than the boys in the England squad then surely I deserve an opportunity.”
Since making his debut in for his country in 2005, he has won four caps in sporadic bursts, the most recent coming in 2008 on an ill-fated tour to New Zealand. A couple of years ago, when he was running in tries for fun and English scores out wide were drying up, a return to the fold may not have been that unlikely.
Now, however, with his injury issues along with the emergence of the likes of Marland Yarde, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson and, of course, teammate Christian Wade, his way back into the international fold is littered with high-quality and – it has to be said – younger alternatives.
Varndell admits that Stuart Lancaster hasn’t been on the phone recently, but is adamant that he can change that.
“I’ve not been playing – there’s nothing to talk about,” he points out. “I’ve got to go out and play well – then there is something to talk about. I’ve got to get back on the pitch and give him a reason to want to talk to me.”
This weekend seems as good a place to start as any. Not only will he be running out onto the pristine pitch of Twickenham, one of the best surfaces to play on in the world, but he happens to be lining up opposite two of the men that have jumped ahead of him in the England pecking order. Motivation will not be lacking, and Varndell is keen for an open game to show what he can do.
“There are some big wide spaces (at Twickenham) – they’ve got some quick boys as well, with England wing Jonny May – I’ve got a bit of a point to prove there – and (Charlie) Sharples, who actually got called up when I got injured last time.
“On a personal level, I’d love to have a go at them both. The fact that they’ve played for England gives me a little bit more enthusiasm for that.”
Putting personal matters aside, it is a huge game for everyone at Wasps this weekend. Locked in a three way chase for the all important seventh place and the European play-off that comes with it, they could all but eliminate rivals Gloucester by defeating them.
It is worth remembering, however, that Wasps are still fighting on two fronts, with an Amlin Cup semi-final against Bath also on the horizon. But as that competition will become defunct next year, surely the prioirity should be the league, and gaining the opportunity to rub shoulders with the European elite next season? Varndell isn’t so sure.
“The Amlin won’t be around next year, but it’s here this year and we’re in it,” he says. “We want to win a trophy – we’re desperate to win something. It’s been a few pretty barren years and we need to reward the fans with a trophy of some kind.
“Seventh is big for us as well because we want to be in these big European games next year. I think we’ve got the squad to go all out in both competitions, and I think we need to.”
If Varndell’s unlikely dream of playing for England again is ever going to come true, this weekend presents the kind of occasion in which he must excel. Wide spaces, opposition he needs to prove he is better than and plenty at stake for his team – it doesn’t get much bigger than that. Over to you, Tom.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
London Wasps take on Gloucester Rugby in The Stinger on Saturday 19th April at 3:15pm, exclusively live on BT Sport. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.co.uk/wasps
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images