Leicester 25 Gloucester 20

Varndell cashes in as Leicester look lively

They need not have worried. Two opportunist tries from Tom Varndell and a cheeky display from Austin Healey enabled Leicester to preserve their unbeaten home league record, which stretches back 22 months.

With 15 players unavailable - six because of international commitments - Leicester clearly felt vulnerable, but the remarkable strength of their squad again saw them through against a Gloucester side lacking only four first-choice regulars.

Healey does not usually need an excuse to show off, and he was determined to enjoy himself in his 200th start for the club. He allowed Gloucester no time to settle, but it was Varndell who profited from Leicester's enterprise after an early close-range try from Michael Holford. A delightful turn of pace allowed Varndell, who made his senior debut in the corresponding fixture last year to capitalise on a clever pass from the debutant Tom Croft for his seventh try of the season. The eighth followed as Varndell came off his wing, showed the ball to Leon Lloyd outside him and ghosted through.

Gloucester scored two lovely tries of their own through Anthony Allen, created by James Simpson-Daniel and Olly Morgan. But they got little change out of Leicester's depleted pack, and were dependent on Ludovic Mercier's accurate kicking for their bonus point.

Off the pitch there was plenty to occupy the home supporters, with rumours that Scott Johnson, the Wales skills coach, and Jim Mallinder, the England Under-21 coach and former Sale director of rugby, have emerged as front-runners to succeed Pat Howard as the head coach at Welford Road.

Howard is to return to Australia at the end of the season, and Leicester are already seeking a replacement. Despite the presence of John Kirwan, the former Italy coach, at the Oval Park training ground last week, Johnson, who was short-listed for the Leicester job when Dean Richards departed last year, and Mallinder are believed to be ahead of the former New Zealand winger in the reckoning.

Leicester: S Vesty; L Lloyd, O Smith, D Hipkiss (Anitelea Tuilagi, 63), T Varndell; A Goode, A Healey (capt; N Cole, 73 ); M Holford (A Moreno, 46), G Chuter, D Morris, L Cullen (J Hamilton, 59;), B Kay, T Croft, S Jennings (W Johnson, 59), B Deacon.

Gloucester: O Morgan; M Foster, J Simpson-Daniel, A Allen, (T Fanolua, 59), R Thirlby; L Mercier, P Richards (H Thomas, 70); P Collazo, M Davies, G Powell, A Eustace, P Buxton (capt; M Cornwell, 67), A Balding (J Boer, 45), A Hazell, J Forrester.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).

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