Stuart Lancaster keeps ‘gutted’ Tom Varndell in loop

Tom VarndellTom Varndell got the phone call he had been expecting  last week and again he was left out in the cold – but his record-breaking response was a clear message to Stuart Lancaster and he has vowed it will not be the last.
At first there was the familiar feeling of rejection but soon Varndell came to see Lancaster’s phone call on the eve of his EPS announcement in a positive light – after all it brought to an end years of radio silence from the England selectors.
The gist of Lancaster’s message was: close but no cigar. But, after ten tries in 11 Premiership appearances this season to drag Wasps back into the top four, Varndell can count himself unlucky to not even make the Saxons squad.
David Strettle and Chris Ashton are the only out-and-out wingers in the senior squad and have just four Premiership tries between them this term while Saxons quartet Tom Biggs, Charlie Sharples, Ugo Monye and Christian Wade have 13 – six from the latter, Varndell’s partner in crime at Wasps.
And Varndell readily admits his Amlin Challenge Cup hat-trick inside the first 13 minutes against Mogliano last week – a competition record – was borne out of rage, not that he intends to sulk about his latest snub.
“I was gutted, I’m not going to lie, I was very, very disappointed, I really thought that my form this season was the best of my career and that I had done enough,” said Varndell. “It took about half an hour to get over the initial disappointment and to realise that it was a good thing to get the call from Stuart and for him to tell me that I’m very close to the England set-up.
“There wasn’t anything specific he told me he wanted me to do, just that I’m very close but I know that I need to be consistent, there’s no point doing it every now and then.
“And that’s what I wanted to show against Mogliano. I wanted to prove a point, I was playing angry and I wanted to get the ball in hand and show what I can do and what my strengths are.
“I know that I have to keep doing that. I want to play for England and I haven’t given up on it, it’s as simple as that. I know that there could be injuries between now and the end of the Six Nations and I could get my chance.
“My goal is now to make sure I’m in that squad for the summer tour to Argentina.
“Stuart told me that there’s going to be 40-man squad and I believe I can be a part of it.”
The last of Varndell’s four England caps came in New Zealand in 2008, having made his debut against Samoa in 2005 but it is the two appearances in 2006 in Australia for which he is best, and unfavourably, remembered after butchering two chances in the first Test and having his defensive naiveté exposed by Lote Tuqiri in the second.
In all, Varndell managed three England tries but he has found the reputation of ‘pace to burn but much to learn’, difficult to shake off.
By his own admission, it has taken Varndell longer than most to learn his trade, but he is adamant he is now far from a one-trick pony.
“I admit that when I first starting playing I was a sprinter playing rugby but I have no doubt that I am now a rugby player,” added Varndell, who announced himself in 2004 with a 13-minute hat-trick for Leicester against Worcester.
“And I admit I’ve been quite slow at improving the other aspects of my game but I don’t think I’ve still got the reputation of just a fast finisher.
“I’ve been working very hard on my all-round game and I’ll continue to do so to make sure I keep that level of consistency that’s required for international rugby.”
More bad news followed for Varndell this week after it emerged Wasps teammate and close friend Billy Vunipola will be joining Saracens next season.
But while he admits he will be sad to see the No.8 go, he is convinced it does not spell the end of Wasps’ resurgence.
“Obviously I’m gutted to see Billy going, we all wanted him to stay because firstly he’s such a great player, shown by his call-up for England, and also because he’s a friend.
“We all wish him well but at the end of the day he’s just one player, he alone is not London Wasps and I’m sure that we’ll cope with it as a club.
“He’s also got a lot of rugby to play for Wasps before the season’s out and I’m sure he’ll be giving his all.”
GERARD MEAGHER

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