AS THE PREMIERSHIP’S greatest-ever try-scorer, life at the bottom of the Championship is predictably proving quite alien for Yorkshire Carnegie’s Tom Varndell.
Nevertheless, the prolific former England winger is embracing the challenges that he and his side are facing as they continue to search for an elusive first win of the season.
Admittedly, at the age of 34, Varndell is reaching the end of an eventful and distinguished career.
However, having starred in the top-flight with Leicester Tigers, Wasps and Bristol, he hopes to have one last hurrah in trying to help Carnegie – once a Premiership opponent – regain their feet after their disastrous recent financial problems.
The wideman, who still has plenty of that electric pace that first earmarked him as a potent finisher back in his debut campaign of 2004, arrived at Emerald Headingley in July with the club having reverted to part-time status with barely any players.
Indeed, they host Ealing Trailfinders tomorrow having lost all seven games so far but Varndell -–who misses the match – is not disillusioned.
“It was quite an easy decision to join,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“I knew realistically I’m coming towards the end of my career and it’s nice to be part of something quite different like this.
“There was a lot of talk about what was happening at Yorkshire last season and this was a chance to hopefully create something special with them going forward.
“I knew full well what I was getting into and Martyn Wood and Joe Ford have been really good and really honest with the boys.
“When I signed I always knew it was going to be a ‘learning as we go’ type of experience.
“We only had two weeks together and always planned to use the three Championship Cup games as our pre-season.
“We are improving every single week. It is going to be a long season – we know that – but as long as we keep showing improvement and start picking up some points, scoring some at home, that’s the main thing.
“Survival is the aim – that’s the whole plan – and then we can progress next season. We’ll see where we’re at at Christmas.”
Varndell has now had six different clubs in the last 18 months so he is looking forward to hanging around at Carnegie.
After finishing at Bristol at the end of 2017-18, he spent a brief spell with Scarlets before moving to France to play for second division side Soyaux Angoulême XV Charente.
That did not work out well, though, and in December he found himself back at Leicester – nine and a half years after originally leaving Welford Road – acting as injury cover for his old club.
Next, came a stint with South China Tigers and Varndell explained: “I went out to Hong Kong for three and a half months which was fun.
“It was a great experience. I’ve managed to play in a lot of different environments in my career and wanted to see what else is out there. I’ve seen both good and bad but Hong Kong was fantastic.
“I had the off-season looking at my options and chose to come here to Yorkshire Carnegie.”
Varndell won four caps for his country, the last of which came in 2008, but that Premiership record of 92 tries is something else he holds dear.
With Mark Cueto (90) retired and Christian Wade (82) now in the NFL, Sale Sharks’ Chris Ashton (82) is the most likely player – if any – to break it.
“As a winger, scoring tries is what you’re paid to do,” he said.
“I’m proud to have that record and it is fantastic to hold it.
“I’ve been part of plenty of successful sides and have just enjoyed playing. There’s been ups and downs but I’ve made some great memories.
“That record might get broken by Chris Ashton this year – hopefully not – but whatever happens hopefully I can finish off on a little bit of a high with Carnegie.”
On life as a part-time player, he added: “We don’t do as much training and that is the difficult part; we only train Tuesday and Thursday nights. The more time we do spend together the better we’re going to get and we have to use all our time wisely. It is small steps and it’ll be another tough game against Ealing but we’re getting there.
“As for whether this is my last season, we’ll see how it goes and it depends on how this pans out.
“As long as the body feels right, for me it’s all about the enjoyment; once that goes it’s time to hang up the boots. But I’m still enjoying it so we’ll see how it goes.”
Carnegie have made eight changes from the side that lost 30-10 at London Scottish, including George Hammond starting at lock after joining on loan from Harlequins.