Tom Varndell reflects on career with Leicester Tigers, Wasps, Bristol Bears as well as not fufilling his England potential
Tom Varndell says he is not “one of those people that does reflections and gets full of nostalgia”.
But having now left the professional game after the coronavirus pandemic cut short his Championship season with Yorkshire Carnegie to join fourth tier Bury St Edmunds as a playing skills and attack coach, there is plenty to smile about.
The left wing, who was once recorded in his socks running 100m in 10.8 seconds, burst on to the scene with Leicester Tigers as a 19-year-old in 2004, setting his first lasting record in just his second game.
His hat-trick at Worcester Warriors’ Sixways Stadium came in a blistering 13-minute spell to send Tigers to the top of the table.
The following season saw him make both his England XV and sevens debut within a five-day period and finish the regular campaign as the Premiership’s leading try scorer. He was also named the Guinness Premiership Young Player of the Year and went on to lead the try charts for England Sevens as they won the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.
He lifted the Premiership title with the Tigers in 2006/07 and 2008/09, coming on as a replacement in both Twickenham showpieces, before embarking on a six-year spell with fellow powerhouse Wasps.
He stepped down and won the Championship at the first attempt with Bristol Bears in 2015/16 before going on to break Mark Cueto’s top tier cumulative try-scoring record in 2017. His record of 92 still stands, though Harlequins Chirs Ashton (85) is closing in.
There were then shorter spells in Wales, with Scarlets; France, with second tier Soyaux Angoulême XV Charente; a brief return to England, with Leicester Tigers; touring Asia, with Hong Kong sevens side South China Tigers, before ending up back on home soil with Yorkshire Carnegie.
“The team-mates you meet and celebrate the victories with is always the highlight for me,” said 34-year-old Varndell, who is now a licensed player agent with Elite Sports Management.
“Obviously there is tries I have scored that have been so much fun and given so much enjoyment. But it is always the enjoyment factor I look back on and that was brilliant.
“I think there are so many things that I can look back on and be proud about.
“I think getting my England debut for the full 15s and in the same week getting my England Sevens debut in Dubai was pretty special.”
But with such a decorated and acclaimed domestic playing career behind him, should he have earned more than four England XV caps?
“The England tours were tough. Going down to Australia at the time when they were the best team in the world we took a bomb squad and we got absolutely thumped,” he said, having only been 18 at the time.
“Experience-wise it was brilliant. I played against Lote Tuqiri, Stirling Mortlock and George Gregan.
“It was an unbelievable for me. I think it was well too early for me in my career to be chucked on to a tour like that though.
“And then you didn’t get another look-in for two years and when I did it was off to New Zealand to play the All Backs in peak season!
“Again, we took a very weak team. We didn’t even have a head coach, it was the in-between stage of Brian Ashton and Martin Johnson.”
He added: “With England I would have loved to have done a World Cup and a Six Nations and got a decent run.”
It was the decision to end his spell at Wasps that he calls his biggest regret though.
He said: “I had been there seven seasons and although we didn’t always achieve as much as we could do on the pitch – we obviously went through some tough times with the takeover and moving to Coventry – for me it was the happiest place I have ever been.
“Not saying Bristol wasn’t a great club as they are fantastic now. It was just the timing of it all and where I was in my career.”
While there were still good times to reflect on in the west Country, his move to France in the Pro D2 is something he will not look back on with any fondness though.
“I hated every moment,” he said. “The family hated it and I just could not settle in any way, shape or form.
“The players were lovely and they were all great guys, the coach was fine, I just didn’t like the style of rugby they played, I didn’t like the food, I didn’t like anything.
“So I had to pay to get myself out of my contract and moved myself back home.”
And he was far from worried about not getting a proper season-ending swansong at a Carnegie side that suffered 14 successive losses in the Championship on the way to relegation to National 1.
“I think mentally my last official year was probably the season gone before this,” he said.
“We got absolutely battered every single week.
“I managed to get a couple of tries but I’m not going to lie, when the season got called to an end I wasn’t the most upset in the world.”
He added: “There is obviously the good times that massively outweigh the bad times in my career.
“And it is all about the memories you have created and the people and personalities you have met.”
Having drawn a line under his professional career, Varndell is now ready to start looking forward to injecting the fun back into his rugby as he begins to create some new memories at the GK IPA Haberden with Bury.
More by this authorRussell Claydon
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