Record Premiership try-scorer Tom Varndell has given thanks to former club Leicester for opening their doors and briefly welcoming him back into the fold in early 2019. The ex-England winger had left the club where he made his name in 2009 to join Wasps, but he will be forever grateful for the rejuvenating way they invited him to return a decade later.
Thirty-three at the time, Varndell had called a premature halt to an unsettling episode at Soyaux-Angouleme, the French Pro D2 outfit he joined after his stint at Bristol had ended with a brief detour to PRO14 side Scarlets.
He made six appearances in France where he found it difficult to settle, but Leicester became the tonic that lifted his spirits and led to a final year adventure at South China Tigers in Hong Kong and then at Leeds-based Championship strugglers Yorkshire.
“It was actually fantastic,” he told RugbyPass, recalling the short-lived return to his old stomping ground which culminated in one start, the February 2019 Gallagher Premiership match away to Saracens after a few tune-ups with Championship side Nottingham.
“Mentally my mindset at the time was pretty down. I hadn’t enjoyed France at all. I wanted to carry on playing but I didn’t know what I could do and the opportunity came to go there for a couple of months.
'There were times when I was in the car with the rugby coach and players would be phoning in saying they couldn’t do anymore because it was affecting their actual work life.' @Tom_Varndell talks to @heagneyl ???https://t.co/oKkSFnhHom
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 19, 2020
“It was good to be around a few familiar faces, Geordie (Murphy) who I played with, Boris Stankovich, the Youngs brothers. It was actually nice to catch up. When I was there before they were the champions. The had won many Premierships, been in European Cup finals, and to see what the club was then to where it is now, it was tough.
“Character won these big leagues. There was so much experience in the room. They had the armoury at that moment of time. They did improve last season as the season went on and they will come back because they have fantastic players, but it was tough to see,” he said describing the difference he found between starring in a Leicester team that annually competed for trophies in the 2000s and the one he return to that was fighting a relegation battle against Newcastle Falcons.
“Definitely, the Premiership without Leicester Tigers wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be the same without a Wasps or without a Saracens now. These are famous teams and have got a following all over the world. They are part of the Premiership brand and you need these clubs doing well. You can’t have a league where one or two teams are head and shoulders above everyone else. It has to be six or seven teams battling it out.”
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