Nick Abendanon’s feared early retirement might get a short-term Gallagher Premiership reprieve if the indefinitely suspended English top-flight eventually gets the go-ahead to finish out its 2019/20 season. Set to turn 34 in August, the twice-capped England player had been left in limbo due to the Covid-19 pandemic calling a halt to the Top 14 season in France and stalling the recruitment process for next season.
Already knowing that he would be leaving Clermont, the club he has been with since switching from Bath in 2014, Abendanon feared being forced into retirement due to the pandemic leaving clubs wary of adding players to rosters they are already struggling to pay for.
He told RugbyPass in mid-April that retirement was looking increasingly on the horizon. “In my mind now, that’s what is happening, it’s the end,” he said last month. “I’ve still got the desire and the motivation to play. So if I was forced to retire because of the pandemic, but still hungry, it would be a shame because something that is uncontrollable has forced my hand.”
Clermont informed Abendanon in October they would not be keeping him on. There was fleeting interest from Grenoble and the Pro D2, but the second tier didn’t appeal. There might yet be an offer from San Diego Legion in America’s fledgeling professional league, but that won’t materialise for many months and Abendanon is not entirely sold on the idea either.
So desperate has he been that he even he longed for a return to Bath, his hometown club where he dazzled for the thick end of a decade. “I tried to get the Bath flame going and potentially go back there for a year,” he revealed. “I know the owner Bruce Craig and Stuart Hooper, the director of rugby, and it’s where I’m from.
“But for them, they have got some young guys coming through who deserve a chance and Tom Homer is there playing pretty good rugby at the moment so that one fizzled out pretty quickly as well. Apart from that, there hasn’t really been anything else.”
Until now, perhaps. With the Premiership still hoping to arrange an on-field conclusion to the currently suspended season, the contractual expiry date of June 30 for out-of-contract players in the English league could leave some squads short on depth for a 2019/20 restart.
That could work in Abendanon’s favour and it has been reported by The Rugby Paper that London Irish have been in touch about a possible final challenge in the Premiership. Declan Kidney isn’t immune to bringing in players on a short-term deal.
He did so last year with Ian Keatley, who stopped off in Reading in between leaving Munster and joining Benetton, and a similar short-term move for Abendanon would be in keeping with what happened then. Irish have nine matches left in the 2019/20 campaign and they currently lie in eighth spot with five wins from 13 outings.
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