Varndell blazes brightest for Tigers

Worcester 11 - Leicester 38
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The Independent Online

Leicester have discovered some backs with star qualities over the years, Rory Under-wood being the most success-ful of the recent generation. Now they have a new meteor burning brightly in their firmament, in the shape of their winger Tom Varndell.

Leicester have discovered some backs with star qualities over the years, Rory Under-wood being the most success-ful of the recent generation. Now they have a new meteor burning brightly in their firmament, in the shape of their winger Tom Varndell.

Still only 19, Varndell, who can cover 100 metres in 10.8 seconds, was discovered by the former England full-back Dusty Hare, now Leicester's rugby development manager. Having his second game for the Tigers, Varndell - 6ft 3in and 15st - scored a brilliant hat-trick of tries in a blistering second half to help Leicester move five points clear at the top of the Premiership.

"We thought it might have been harder." said John Wells, Leicester's head coach. "But after the second try went in, the game opened up for us. With so many injuries and our England players missing, we had to rely on some of our youngsters, and they all did well. But Tom is something special. He's looked good in training, now we know he can do it in a game situation."

Even before Varndell's spectacular intervention, with the ball in hand and with their ability and insistence on moving it at pace, Leicester were in a different class to Worcester. Even the loss after 15 minutes of their powerful new centre Seru Rabeni, with the recurrence of a knee injury, failed to halt the Tigers' momentum. After Scott Bemand's try, Leicester staged an irresistible demonstration of how to recycle the ball quickly at the breakdown, giving Worcester an unforgettable, if painful, lesson in continuity.

As if Leicester's speed of thought was not enough to keep them awake, Worcester were sound asleep when Leicester were awarded a penalty for offside. Austin Healey took a quick tap, while Worcester were expecting a kick at goal. Martin Johnson, sporting a natty blue scrumcap after bashing his forehead against Gloucester last week, punched a hole in what remained of the home defence and Neil Back was driven over for try No 2.

Bemand had scored the first for the Tigers after Tommy Hayes kicked two penalties for Worcester. With Andy Goode's conversion and a further try from Healey, Leicester led 17-6 at the break.

"We started the second half well," said Worcester's director of rugby, John Brain. "But after that we fell apart. Losing has become a habit, and it will take a monumental effort to get out of it." For Varndell, winning has already become a habit. He collected his hat-trick in 13 minutes, which was unlucky for Worcester, whose only consolation was a late try for Paul Sampson, who crossed while Will Skinner was in the sin-bin.

Worcester: T Delport; D O'Leary (P Sampson, 29), D Rasmussen, G Trueman, B Gollings (D Roke, 61); T Hayes, C Stuart-Smith (M Powell 64); T Windo, B Daly, C Horsman, T Collier, C Gillies, L Greef (M Gabey, 44), P Sanderson (capt), D Hickey.

Leicester: S Vesty; A Healey (R Broadfoot, 64), S Rabeni (M Cornwell, 15), D Gibson, T Yarndell; A Goode, S Bemand; M Holford (C Noon 68), J Buckland (R Cockerill, 78), D Morris, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon (J Hamilton, 74), B Deacon (W Johnson, 46), N Back (H Tuilagi, 69), H Tuilagi (W Skinner, 58-69).

Referee: G Ashton-Jones (Hampshire).

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