Flying wingers give Wasps a lift
'Unique' combination of Varndell and Wade thrills crowds with fleet-footed frolics
Wasps' ground at Adams Park is not much loved by visiting spectators – to tell the truth, the home club themselves would like to get out of there at the earliest opportunity – but it is an amphitheatre of high drama when Christian Wade and Tom Varndell are ripping up the opposition. From day one this season the two wings have been at the top of the English try-scoring charts, and the promise of seeing them makes the trip to the back end of a High Wycombe industrial estate worthwhile.
Varndell has nine tries in the Premiership and Wade has five plus three in Europe. Varndell, as the taller man by 10cm, brings an elegant sweep to the left; Wade is a Tasmanian Devil on the right.
Just as four decades ago denizens of Old Trafford yearned for George Best to receive possession, so the Adams Parkers feel an inner tingle whenever Wade gets near the ball. He lures opponents with the come-hither tease of a matador before unleashing an explosion of acceleration to evade the poor saps' clutches, feet whirring like the blades of a wheat-thresher, the ball in both hands for disguise or tucked under one arm for protection.
Both men deliver the gift of speed, just in different wrapping. "We've never raced, but being realistic, Tom would beat me over 100 metres," says Wade. "Over a 40-metre dash, I'd take him. My PB is 4.68sec."
They are mates off the field and they are certain that helps their partnership on it. Varndell, living near Thame, picks up Wycombe resident Wade on his way to training. They room together on away trips, go to Nando's together and went to Marbella on holiday with a few of the other Wasps.
"What me and Tom have is quite unique," Wade says. "Last year I scored quite a lot of tries, whereas this year he's pushing ahead a bit but I say, 'Look mate, I've given you three of your tries'."
They both pay tribute to the expansive thinking of Wasps' backs coach, Shane Howarth, the former New Zealand and Wales full-back. "Shane tells us the worst thing a winger can do is go into touch," says Varndell. "Every time I do, I have to give him a Snickers."
Wade laughs at that with a hacking "Huh, huh, huh"; the pair of them laugh a lot. They can finish off classic threequarter-line moves – Wade's touchline run, kick and gather in Bayonne recently was superb – or hunt as a pair. "There are times when the ball's going to Tom's wing and you don't want me just sitting on mine," says Wade. "I'll come across and get on a 'jack' ball: a pass behind or a miss-pass to me as an extra pair of hands. It's another threat. Popping up on the other side will make defences worry, put a question mark into them."
Varndell has a minor foot injury so he will miss today's Premiership meeting with bottom club Sale, but he should return at London Welsh on Saturday. It was Wasps fighting relegation last season; having survived, they were bought out in the summer, and though they remain bashful about the full state of their finances, results have improved, with four wins and five losing bonuses from 10 league matches, and three wins and a draw in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
So where do the country's most reliable club try-scorers stand with England? With revised senior and Saxons squads to be named on 9 January, Wade is in the Saxons currently. He has been assured by the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, that his size, 178cm and 86kg, is irrelevant. But Charlie Sharples, Ugo Monye, Chris Ashton and an out-of-position Mike Brown were used in the autumn, and Bath's Tom Biggs was called up for training. Wade has got no further than three non-cap matches last May and June, including two on tour in South Africa that produced a hat-trick of tries against the SA Barbarians in Kimberley.
"I made a few defensive mistakes," Wade says. "There was one where I could have smashed someone but I misjudged the read and got made to look a bit silly."
Varndell, at the age of 27, is regretful of his tours to Australia in 2006 and New Zealand in 2008, each when the national team were undergoing a change of coach, though he scored three tries in his four Tests.
He urges England to pick the 21-year-old Wade but also to handle him with care. "I was given my opportunity at the wrong time," says Varndell, who joined Wasps from Leicester in 2009. "A lot of England wings are struggling to score tries at the moment and I was quite shocked Chris didn't get called up in the autumn, but I am sure he will get his shot this season.
"He can hold his own in defence and no one can catch him in attack. It is the right time for him. But there's no point putting him in games when he's not going to get much ball."
Some players are dismissive of records; not Varndell. His 69 career league tries put him in sight of Neil Back's record of 77 in the top division and Steve Hanley's 75 from the start of the Premiership in 1997; he has checked that the season's best was 17 by Richmond's Dominic Chapman in 1997-98. "Oh I'm bothered, massively bothered," he says. "Tries are the bread and butter for a winger. That's my job."
All-time leading try-scorers in England's top flight
Neil Back 77
Steve Hanley 75
*Mark Cueto 74
Daren O'Leary 73
*Tom Varndell 69
Paul Sackey 68
Jeremy Guscott 67
*Tom Voyce 66
*James Simpson-Daniel 63
Ben Cohen 59
Josh Lewsey 58
Adedayo Adebayo 57
*Geordan Murphy 57
Rory Underwood 55
Iain Balshaw 52
*Tom May 52
*Christian Wade 15
* still playing in Premiership. Statistics since start of leagues in 1987, provided by SFMS Ltd
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