Varndell misses Welsh test to play for Bedford

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The Independent Online

Tom Varndell, Leicester's England wing, will miss the Tigers' EDF Energy Cup match with the Newport-Gwent Dragons this afternoon to play for Bedford against Exeter in National League One.

The 21-year-old has been sent to Goldington Road on a loan deal covering the three weeks before Leicester's first Heineken Cup match of the season, against Munster at Welford Road on 22 October.

"There is a shortage of opportunities for Tom to play at the moment," said Pat Howard, the Tigers' head coach. "We are looking at some other guys in a competitive position and it's important they get consistent game time."

Alex Tuilagi and Leon Lloyd, both coming back from injury, play on the wings against the Dragons.

Bedford's backs coach Andy Key, who is also Leicester's head of rugby development, said: "It is really pleasing that the relationship between the two clubs allows us to get a player game-time during this period."

It is presumably even more pleasing when that player happens to be a three-times capped international and last season's leading Premiership try-scorer. The Blues can also call on the England Under-19 centres Ollie Dodge and Tom Youngs, both seconded from Leicester for the season and both in the starting line-up against the Chiefs.

A look at the other English clubs' team-sheets for this weekend's cross-border matches shows some, such as Sale and London Irish, putting out strong teams. Others, such as Worcester and Bristol, are using the competition to give games to junior members of their squads or players coming back from injury.

The Welsh clubs have all named full-strength sides, fitness issues allowing, but in general the days of any club having a constant "first XV" are fast disappearing. Rugby is being played with greater intensity than ever before and the professional game has become increasingly squad-orientated.

That is a welcome state of affairs for players such as the Wasps back-rower James Haskell. "Lawrence Dallaglio [the Wasps and England No 8] and Ian McGeechan [Wasps' director of rugby] are always talking about the fact that it is about not the match-day 22, it is about the whole squad," said the 21-year-old, who is on the bench for today's visit to Cardiff.

"We make sure during training that the whole squad are out there, because every player must be able to slot in at a moment's notice. You can only be successful and win if you have a full squad behind the way you want to play. That is why Wasps have been successful. It is because we use everyone. Extra games and extra tournaments make the squad even more important. The intensity of the game has gone up. A club is not going to have 22 players who are going to last week in, week out."

Northampton have taken this approach one step further in naming two long-term casualties, the captain and full-back, Bruce Reihana, and the centre Jon Clarke, in their 38-man squad for the Heineken Cup, which starts on 20 October.

Clarke broke his ankle in the first match of the season and Reihana injured his knee last week, and neither player is expected to return to action before Christmas. They are, however, expected to be ready for European action in the new year.