Toulouse v Leicester: Varndell speeds up the learning process

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The Independent Online

Postcards from the life of Tom Varndell: two years ago, it was sun and sand in Dubai, "wish you were here" and tries galore for England Sevens immediatelyafter a first full cap for his country at Twickenham. This time last year, it was "wish I wasn't here", on loan from Leicester to Second Division Bedford, with a knee injury to top it off.

And today? Something fresh and exciting to write home about, with luck, as Varndell restored to the Leicester team and in good form heads to Toulouse for a crucial Heineken Cup rematch.

The Pool Six meeting a week ago, which Leicester won 14-9, took place in a Welford Road rainstorm. Not the conditions for a wing to prosper, even one as seriously rapid (he has clocked 10.8sec for 100m) as the 22-year-old Varndell. The only memorable pass thrown to a Leicester back was from Toulouse's Clment Poitrenaud, and Ollie Smith ran it in for the decisive try.

"Toulouse are going to be on fire today, they love to run the ball," said Varndell. "I don't care if I get a pass. The win comes first and the team comes first. When Leicester's forwards are playing well, there's not another club in Europe that can give us that platform to work from."

Tigers fans, mindful of a strike-rate of 51 tries in 76 matches, will be happy to hear he is happy. The loan to Bedford, ordered by the then head coach, Pat Howard, grated with Varndell last autumn and it still does.

It followed a summer tour with England to Australia that only harmed his reputation. "Going to Bedford wasn't a masterstroke," said Varndell, when asked if his revitalisation this season has proved Howard's way to be right. "I didn't want to be there. I thought it was very unfair for me to be singled out when the whole team weren't performing well. And I got an injury. Cheers, Pat."

Do not be fooled. Varndell has taken a hard look at himself, and adapted. His social life was too fast, too furious, and he and his girlfriend Claire now have a four-month-old son, Taio (a Spanish name they liked). In training, the former whizz-kid from the renowned Colston's School has "knuckled down", and acknowledged that attack is only half the game. "It's the realisation that yes, I can run in the tries but that you have got to win collisions, run hard, make your tackles. I watched the World Cup on telly and I wanted to be there. And I knew I could have been there if I'd honed my skills when I was first on the scene. I didn't, I was lazy, and that was the price I paid. I don't want to be in the same situation in four years' time."

It sounds reminiscent of Paul Sackey, the Wasps wing once of Bedford, as it happens who broke his own mould, improved and played in a World Cup final. "Sacks was lucky that Dave Strettle got injured before the World Cup," said Varndell, "but he came through well and made the most of his opportunity."

Watch Leicester Tigers in Toulouse today on Sky Sports 3, kick-off 3pm