Clermont Auvergne 27 Leicester 40: Four-try Varndell sinks French

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The Independent Online

Leicester required no last-minute heroics this time as England winger Tom Varndell scored four tries to book the Tigers a place in the quarter-finals.

Last week's inspirational win over Stade Francais ­ when they overturned a 22-12 deficit in the final nine minutes ­ left Pat Howard's side at the top of Pool Three.

Howard said: "He [Varndell] said to me before the game he was going to play well and he backed it up. He won't score four tries in a Heineken Cup match very often, particularly in France, and I hope he enjoys himself tonight."

Varndell said: "I went out there to try and prove to my coaches and team-mates I can play at a high level and today went well."

After weathering an early storm Leicester created openings with superb opportunistic rugby. They were made to work hard early on as Clermont Auvergne began by playing high-tempo, quick-phase rugby inspired by the French scrum-half Pierre Mignoni and a brutish pack of forwards who punctured frequent holes in the Tigers' defence.

Just when Clermont should have turned the screw, Geordan Murphy picked off an ambitious pass and Leicester had their foothold. The Tigers took maximum advantage by stinging Clermont with three tries in 14 minutes.

It was Murphy who created the first as he beat Jones's poor tackle and fed Varndell, who held off Mignoni to score. Four minutes later Varndell was over again. England scrum-half Harry Ellis showed superb strength to hold Mignoni at arm's length before slipping the pass to Varndell.

Leicester moved 22-6 ahead when Martin Corry tapped a free-kick and charged 20 metres before sending Danny Hipkiss under the posts.

Four minutes after the interval Murphy hit the gap and was tackled just shy of the line, but offloaded to Varndell who caught and touched down.

Goode extended Leicester's lead with a penalty before Clermont drove replacement flanker Alexandre Audebert over for their second try of the evening.

Goode completed his personal haul of 13 points by converting Varndell's fourth try. Hipkiss started the break and found Varndell on his shoulder, who was too quick for the back-pedalling Clermont defence.

Paulse finished off the scoring by picking off a loose pass from Ross Broadfoot, but the night belonged to Leicester and Varndell.

Clermont Auvergne: Tries Floch, Audebert, Paulse; Penalties Jones 2; Conversions Jones 3. Leicester: Tries Varndell 4, Hipkiss; Penalties Goode 2; Conversions Goode 2, Broadfoot; Drop goal Goode.

Clermont Auvergne: Floch, Paulse, Canale, Marsh, Malzieu, Jones, Mignoni, Emmanuelli (Shvelidze, 54), M Ledesma (Miguel, 60), Scelzo (Zirakashvili, 49), Cudmore (Barrier, 40), Privat (Audebert, 61), Broomhall, Dieude, Vermeulen.

Leicester: Vesty, Varndell, Smith (A Tuilagi, 20), Hipkiss, Murphy, Goode ( Broadfoot, 70), Ellis (Healey, 70), Rowntree (Morris, 66), Chuter (Buckland, 70), White, L Deacon, Kay (Cullen, 50), B Deacon, Abraham, Corry (Johnson, 56).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

* In last night's other game in Pool Three, Stade Francais gave their hopes of qualifying for the knockout round a boost with a 43-10 victory over the Ospreys at Stade Jean-Bouin. The French side ran in seven tries, including three from their prop Yohan Montes.