It feels as though Tom Varndell has been around the Premiership forever. And yet the former Leicester and Wasps winger only turns 31 today.
The former England international is now back in England’s top flight after a year helping Bristol end their seven-year wait for a return to the Premiership.
He began the opening game of the season against Harlequins by doing what he does best – scoring tries.
Danny Care is far from slow, but even the England scrum-half knew as he tried to chase Varndell after his pass had been intercepted that it was a futile cause.
That five-pointer was number 86 in Varndell’s 12-year Premiership career. Mark Cueto, in first place, sits on 90.
Varndell isn’t ignoring the record as such, but then again becoming the Premiership’s all-time leading try scorer is not his priority for the season either. His primary task is to keep Bristol up.
“If I do my job and the team stays in the league, then that is the main thing. Do my job and I’ll get the tries – the two work together really,” Varndell explains.
“I’m not looking at it week in, week out and thinking about the record, I just want to score as often as I possibly can for Bristol to have a fighting chance to stay up.”
The next chance to add to his tally comes on Sunday with a trip to face former side Wasps in Coventry, and there will be no room for any sentiment.
“When you cross the line, you better step up. You don’t want to be embarrassed by any of your old team-mates. It’s a huge challenge for me and for the team to get a result.”
And after Bristol’s first-half undressing from Northampton last weekend, there is a need to steady the ship. Rather than forgetting about the disastrous start – Bristol conceded 25 points in 23 minutes – Varndell knows the harsh lessons need to be taken on board.
“The easy thing to do would be to draw a line under it. But if we do that we don’t learn,” he says.
“At Bristol, we’re a young side in the Premiership and we need to keep learning, about what went wrong and why it happened, and also how we correct it.
“We can have potentially harsh words with each other because the potential within the squad is huge.
“It is not going to get easier. Wasps, Saracens… it’s pretty brutal, and we need to get something from these games if we want to be in the Premiership next year.”
If Bristol can stay up, and continue to do so in the years to come, the potential is there for them to become a force. Rumours of Ma’a Nonu heading to the West Country might have been farfetched but in a few years’ time, Bristol’s hope is that similar names of his calibre will be interested in making the move.
Club owner Steve Lansdown holds big ambitions to turn the city of Bristol into a sporting juggernaut, providing the club with the financial resources and an impressive stadium.
Which is why the early performance against Northampton was unacceptable. Performances such as that will not have the fans flocking to Ashton Gate at a time when the club hopes they will start to attend in droves.
Varndell isn’t from Bristol. Yet he recognises the passion for the city to succeed among the players in Bristol’s squad, local or not, and how long-term that can help to build the club into a force. For now, it might be that extra element that keeps them up.
He said: “We can’t go back to Ashton Gate and have another 30 minutes like we did at the start against Northampton, because it’s embarrassing. We want to be winning games, not that far down on the scoreboard early in games.
“The club as a whole, on and off the pitch, is fantastic. Steve Lansdown has put a huge amount of money into Bristol sport which makes it incredible to be a part of.
“The amount of local boys the club has, and their passion for the club, is fantastic.
“Joe Joyce [the young English lock] loves Bristol as a whole city, and when he pulls on the shirt you just know he will give it everything. And that’s across the squad. Every single boy is going to fight for the shirt.”