Leicester 20 Wasps 19: Varndell hat-trick enough for Tigers to move up to second

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The Independent Online

Tom Varndell's first-half hat-trick of tries gave Leicester, who were under enormous pressure in the second half of an engrossing game, a victory they just about deserved. The Tigers outscored Wasps by three tries to one to move up to second place in the table, behind Sale.

Wasps rued their missed opportunities after the break when they were in try-scoring positions, a point made by their director of rugby, Ian McGeechan. "We controlled so much of the game," he said. "We blew at least three chances, all of which Tom Varndell would have taken. But we are still in there fighting and have two more games to win".

Apart from the prizes waiting to be won, this is the time of season when, for coaches and players, expectation is matched by anxiety. A refereeing decision which goes the wrong way or an injury to a key squad member and eight months hard work can suddenly lie in tatters.

With tiredness factored into the equation, a top-four finish - and thus a guaranteed place in next season's Heineken Cup - can be snatched away within minutes.

Wasps had already been obliged to accept that their dynamic Ireland flanker, Johnny O'Connor, will play no further part in the campaign after injuring his spine in the Powergen Cup final, and McGeechan also decided to rest the club's top try-scorer, Tom Voyce, and do without Matt Dawson, George Skivington and Josh Lewsey, who all have fitness niggles.

It was hardly the ideal preparation for Wasps' latest attempt to end their unwanted record of never having won a league match here in 15 previous visits. Yet except for the closing minutes, when Leicester had Wasps in a stranglehold, that record looked as if would be consigned to the history books.

In the first half Wasps' only response to Varndell's early brilliance was four penalties by their full-back, Mark van Gisbergen, who was in much better kicking form then Leicester's England stand-off Andy Goode, who managed just two successful place kicks from six attempts.

That could have cost his side the game. It was 20-12 to Leicester at the break, Goode having converted Varndell's first strike, and also collected a penalty. But Van Gisbergen's successes kept Wasps in the game, and a splendid try from the wing Paul Sackey before the final quarter was reached ensured a nervous finale and a losing bonus point as a consolation.

Pat Howard, Leicester's head coach, was full of praise for Varndell, and sees him as an England international.

"There is no doubt in my mind," said Howard, "that Tom is a Test player of the future. There is so much more to come from him and he could be a real force in world rugby."

Leicester: A Goode; A Tuilagi (L Lloyd, 48), O Smith (M Cornwell, 64), S Vesty, T Varndell; A Healey (D Gibson, 51), S Bemand; M Holford, J Buckland (G Chuter, 48), J White, L Cullen (J Hamilton, 64), B Kay, L Deacon, M Corry (capt), S Jennings (W Skinner, 71).

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey, A Erinle, R Hoadley, T Evans (S Abbott, 55); J Staunton, E Reddan; T Payne (P Bracken, 68), R Ibañez (J Ward, 54), P Bracken (J Va'a, 59), S Shaw, R Birkett, D Leo, L Dallaglio (capt), M Lock.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

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