By Katie Field
Who is the man of the moment?
Tom Varndell, the fleet-footed wing who will be turning out for London Wasps against Harlequins at Twickenham in the London Double-header on Saturday, 7 September (kick-off 4.30pm).
Why is he in the spotlight?
Varndell finished last season as the joint top try-scorer in the Aviva Premiership, sharing the honour with his team-mate Christian Wade. He ran in 13 tries in 20 league appearances and the first of them came in the same fixture on the opening day of last season.
It was Varndell’s best season for five years as he had not taken his try tally into double figures since 2007-08, when he scored 14 for Leicester Tigers in 22 matches.
Last season’s total could have been even higher if Wasps had not hit the skids in the last couple of months of the season and lost their last seven outings. Varndell scored 11 tries in his first 12 Premiership outings but managed only two more from mid-February.
With his 28th birthday coming up later this month and newcomers like Wade hot-stepping into the limelight, Varndell is super-motivated to start this season well and prove his best days are not behind him.
A little more powder was added to the keg when Stuart Lancaster invited Varndell to train with England this summer. He is not in the Senior EPS or Saxons squad, but the electric form he showed last season has given him the slightest of chances of adding to the four caps he won between 2005 and 2008.
What’s Varndell got to say about it?
“It’s fantastic to be back on the radar and know that I’m in Stuart’s mind. To see the red rose on my chest again has definitely filled me with a hunger and desire to get back into the set up.
“I’m not blind to the fact there’s a lot of quality players in my position. It’s not plain sailing but I’ve been given an opportunity and I’m going to work my butt off.
“Wasps are definitely a different team this year. Last year there were only just enough players to fill each position. Now me and Wadey are looking over our shoulders thinking who is going to be taking our place.
“To drop off the way we did last season was really disappointing and that’s one of the reasons why we came in [to pre-season] so early to work on our fitness.
“Hopefully we will do a lot better than eighth. We’re definitely looking up and not down this season.”
Will he end up whooping or weeping this week?
When Wasps and Quins clashed at Twickenham last season Varndell’s side blasted out of the blocks and were 40-13 up during the second half but ended up losing 42-40 as Quins shredded their defence with four tries in ten minutes and Nick Evans kicked the winning penalty in the last five minutes.
This weekend’s match should be just as tight, with both teams almost at full strength and coming into the game after winning two out of their three pre-season friendlies. I will pick Wasps to come out as winners, but only just!
Watch Varndell and London Wasps take on Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday 7 September, kick-off 4.30pm.Like Rugby World? Subscribe to the magazine for the latest comprehensive content.