Varndell dropped to bench as Tigers sharpen attack

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The Independent Online

Pat Howard, the Tigers' head coach, had pronounced himself dissatisfied with the performance of some his players in the defeat away to Bristol on Tuesday and Varndell is a notable casualty. Varndell, 20, has scored eight tries this season but his recent form has slumped. Howard softened the blow somewhat by saying: "He's not playing badly, but it's a competitive position."

Just five players keep their place in the starting XV for the Tigers' first fixture of the New Year, among them England prop Julian White and Sam Vesty. One man who will not be playing at Welford Road on Monday is former All Black centre Daryl Gibson, who may need surgery on a dislocated shoulder, subject to further medical examination.

Meanwhile, Howard, who leaves his post at the end of the season, revealed that Leicester have a shortlist of half a dozen names to replace him, among them are believed to be John Kirwan, the former Italy coach, Jim Mallinder, who is with the England academy, and Scott Johnson, the Wales skills coach.

Wales coach Mike Ruddock's Six Nations preparations were given a further telling blow yesterday with the news that wing Kevin Morgan will miss the entire Championship. Morgan, whose try sealed victory over Ireland and clinched the Grand Slam, dislocated a foot against Cardiff three days ago and needs an operation which will put him out of action for four months.

The Newport-Gwent Dragons winger is the latest Wales player to be ruled out of all or part of the RBS Six Nations Championship. Forwards Ryan Jones and Brent Cockbain are out, centre Tom Shanklin is a long-term casualty, while Gavin Henson's 10-week suspension rules him out of the matches against England, Scotland and Ireland.

Ospreys have yet to decide whether to lodge an appeal over the ban. They have to receive notification of the hearing's findings. When that arrives they will have 72 hours in which to appeal.

There was better news for Scotland coach Frank Hadden. Jon Petrie, who has been out for four months after injuring a shoulder in Glasgow's opening Celtic League match against Dragons in September, makes the starting XV against Border Reivers tomorrow.

Reivers coach Steve Bates, the former Wasps and England scrum-half and former assistant to Rob Andrew at Newcastle, will be in charge of Scotland A's 2006 Churchill Cup campaign. The June tournament also includes New Zealand Maori, England A, Ireland A, the United States and hosts Canada.

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