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Anthony Watson will be star for England says Nick Abendanon

Anthony WatsonNick Abendanon admits that Anthony Watson’s emergence proved a decisive factor in taking the plunge with European giants Clermont.

But he is convinced he will not be the last England outside back playing second fiddle to the Bath speedster.

Watson, 20, far right, has flourished since arriving at the Rec this season, starting 16 of their 18 Premiership matches, scoring four tries in his last seven.

One was  a memorable effort against London Irish – outstripping England rival Marland Yarde en route to the try-line – and it is that pace, coupled with a scything sidestep that has him firmly in Stuart Lancaster’s thoughts.

A first England cap appears certain in New Zealand this summer – he travelled to Paris in a 26-man squad in February – and according to Abendanon, the sooner the better.

“He’s such a raw talent, he’s got so much pace, a sidestep, I’ve been so impressed since he arrived here,” said Abendanon, who made his 200th Bath appearance last week.

“He came off the back of a great summer with England U20s and his development has just kept going.

“He deserved his call to the England squad and he’ll be a star for them. He’s still very young and raw but he’s got all the attributes.”

Although full-back Lee Byrne had already announced his return to Wales, Clermont’s swoop raised a few eyebrows as Abendanon, 27, had too often been on the bench.

On recent form, however, it is easy to see why Clermont moved in. A stunning cameo against Exeter in February – capped by a superb one-handed finish – resulted in Abendanon starting Bath’s following four matches with Watson shifting to the wing.

He has rekindled the form that earned two England caps in 2007 with some magnificent open field running but Abendanon has no regrets about moving to France. “It was a difficult decision but when the opportunity came along I was struggling to get into the team,” he said.

“But it’s one I’m happy with. I’m joining one of the best clubs in Europe, renowned for their style of play.

“It’ll be a challenge, both on and off the field, but one I’ll throw myself into. I had Olly Barkley around at my house the other day and I was talking to him all about it.

“Obviously it didn’t quite go as well as he’d have hoped with Racing Metro but he has given me loads of advice and I’ll take it all on board.

“I’ve got myself back into the Bath side and I’m playing some of my best rugby, but I have made the decision to go to France and now I just want to end my Bath career on a high. You look around the dressing room and this team as good as any I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

“The one that stands out is when we had Butch James, Michael Claassens, Michael Lipman and Olly but the current side is just as good, and has the potential to be better.

“Me playing at full-back means Anthony has been on the wing but that’s a great positive for Bath and for him.

“Being able to play a couple of positions is a great asset and that’ll really help him in his career, he can be just as effective on the wing.

“I’ve been working with him this season, and I’ve always said I’m ready to give him advice if he needs it, but sometimes with these youngsters, you just let them show everyone what they can do.”

Abendanon’s departure appears to be end of an international career that never got off the ground.

Called up to make his debut against South Africa in 2007, he won his second and final cap in the World Cup warm-up against France later that year but he has never been handed another opportunity.

And full-back is now a position of strength with Mike Brown leading the way and Watson, Ben Foden and Alex Goode snapping at his heels.

But the continued international snub still rankles.

“I don’t feel like I was given the chance, I look back and feel I should have won a lot more caps than two,” he said.

“There was a time when Bath weren’t doing that well and that maybe counted against me but I thought that my form was good enough.

“Looking back, though, I got to make my debut in Johannesburg against the country of my birth and that was a very special day for me, so I don’t have any regrets.”

GERARD MEAGHER

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