Friday, 2 May 2014

Nick Abendanon: the Top 14's gain, the Premiership's loss

Barring some implausible results over the final couple of Premiership weekends, Nick Abendanon will play his final match at The Recreation Ground tonight.

The full-back will bring down the curtain on eight seasons at Bath. Over the summer, he will head to French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne, where the Top 14 will no doubt be hoping for moments such as this:

So the time is ripe for evaluation.

The received wisdom doing the rounds at the moment is that Abendanon is in the form of his life, and that Bath will miss him deeply next season.

Perhaps paradoxically, I agree with the second half of that statement but not the first. Yes, Abendanon will be sorely missed next campaign - Bath currently look thin on the ground at full-back next season (one of their few squad weaknesses for 2014-15) - but I dispute the notion that The Rec has never previously seen Abedanon in such form.

He was named Bath's Players' Player of the Season for three years on the spin during the Steve Meehan and Ian McGeechan eras at The Rec. Within the club, he was venerated. Outside the club (particularly where it mattered: around the table of the England selectors), he was regarded with some wariness - a player who could conjure something out of thin air, but who could then negate the act of genius with an act of daftness.

By his own admission, Abendanon did mar his game with the odd howler during the early years of his career. But for too long, Abendanon has been penalised in the present for the sins of the past. The stigma has hung around, which accounts for why he has never built on the two England caps he received at the start of his career.

Having watched Abendanon most weekends for the past six years, it makes me laugh - or despair - when his defensive qualities or 'physicality' are questioned. For a man of a naturally modest frame, Abendanon has made it something of a trademark to break the first tackle of burly forwards. And his character is encapsulated by the way he soldiered on through this often illegal onslaught by the Tuilagi brothers during one compelling encounter with Leicester:

That's not to say that Abendanon isn't in some respects a more polished player now. Nowadays, he's more pragmatic than pyrotechnic, although he's still capable of setting off more than a few rockets.

His lines of running show increasing maturity as he reads the game better and better with age. His work popping up at first and second-receiver has also been hugely assured this season.

So, sure, Nick Abendanon has been in cracking form during his Bath swansong. But the truth is he's been in cracking form for years and years.

The Top 14's gain, the Premiership - and England's - loss.

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