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European Challenge Cup
Varndell shines as Wasps beat Gloucester
Scrum.com
April 10, 2010
Wasps wing Tom Varndell is congratulated after scoring a try against Gloucester, London Wasps v Gloucester, European Challenge Cup, Adams Park, High Wycombe, England, April 11
Wasps wing Tom Varndell is congratulated after one of his three tries against Gloucester © Getty Images
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Tom Varndell helped himself to a hat-trick as Wasps progressed to the last four of the European Challenge Cup with an exciting 42-26 victory over over Guinness Premiership rivals Gloucester at Adams Park.

Early tries from Ben Jacobs and Serge Betsen put the hosts in control and even though Adam Eustace replied for the Cherry and Whites, Varndell's treble put Wasps out of sight.

Gloucester had started brightly and took the lead with a penalty from No.10 Nicky Robinson. However, Wasps responded with a try, fullback Jacobs finishing off a sweeping passing move which he had started.

Robinson and Cipriani then exchanged penalties before the latter put Betsen away to score Wasps' second try on 22 minutes. However, Cipriani undid all his good work by twice failing to halt Jonny May as he went about setting up Eustace for the score which got Gloucester right back into the game.

It was then, though, that Varndell decided to light up the game. He bagged his first just before the interval, the former Leicester Tigers ace touching down after evading Freddie Burns and Lesley Vainikolo.

Robinson's goal-kicking kept Gloucester in touch but Varndell was to strike again on 72 minutes, this time after Joe Simpson, Cipriani, Kefu, Dominic Waldouck and, lastly, Jacobs had all combined to set him away.

Charlie Sharples briefly raised hopes of a late Gloucester comeback when he crossed shortly after coming on as a replacement but Varndell, quite fittingly, had the final say, completing his hat-trick with the final play of the game.

Wasps will now meet Cardiff Blues in a mouth-watering semif-final after the Welsh region recorded a stunning 55-20 rout of the Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park later in the day.

The victors racked up seven tries in total, with Taufa'ao Filise bagging a brace and Casey Laulala, Martyn Williams, Ben Blair, Jamie Roberts and Ceri Sweeney all scoring one apiece. Blair converted every try and also added two penalties for good measure as he ended with 25 points to his name. Newcastle managed two tries of their own, through Charlie Amesbury and Micky Young, while fly-half Jimmy Gopperth added 10 points with the boot.

The Blues bossed proceedings right from the first whistle and they opened their account with just nine minutes on the clock, Laulala crashing over after Richie Rees had exploded off the back of a five-metre scrum.

Gopperth hit back with a penalty for the home side but the Falcons made a mess of attempting to gather the subsequent restart and their sloppiness eventually led to Williams worming his way over for Cardiff's second try.

Amesbury lifted the Kingston Park crowd when he shrugged off challenges from Williams and Deiniol Jones to score on 16 minutes. Gopperth added the extras and then stroked over a penalty to draw Newcastle to within a point of their visitors.

However, that was to be as close as the Falcons would get. After Blair had landed a penalty to send the Blues in 17-13 up at the interval, the Blues set about blowing Newcastle away in the second half with a fine exhibition of attacking rugby.

Filise burrowed over after Xavier Rush and Bradley Davies had softened up the Falcons defence before Williams put Blair over in the 53rd minute. There was no containing Cardiff now and Roberts cruised over two minutes later after a terrific passing move. Filise crossed again before the hour, the prop the beneficiary of some good work from Paul Tito.

Young added a modicum of respectability to the scoreline when he touched down shortly after the hour but the Blues were not done and Sweeney put the seal when he dotted after a wonderful run from Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny.

Meanwhile, Connacht and Toulon will meet in the other semi-final after they racked up vastly different victories over Bourgoin and Scarlets respectively on Saturday afternoon.

Connacht became the first side to book a place in the final four with a battling 23-20 victory over Bourgoin at the Sportsground in Galway. Tries from Michael Swift and captain John Muldoon put the hosts in control but a second half score from from John Senio to add to an earlier score from Tone Alefa Kopelani saw Bourgoin take the lead late in the game. But replacement Miah Nikora ensured the home side progressed to the final four with two late penalties and a match-clinching drop goal in the last minute of the game.

When scrum-half Senio sniped through for Bourgoin's second try, converted by Benjamin Boyet, the French side led 20-14 and looked poised to defeat the number one seeds at the quarter-final stage for the second year running. London Irish fell to them twelve months ago, but Connacht, aided by a yellow card for Boyet, raised their game superbly in the final 20 minutes, with their forwards doing the hard graft and Nikora nailing his kicks. Penalties in the 66th and 73rd minutes levelled an absorbing tie and following a series of pick-and-goes from the home pack, the Kiwi out-half knocked over a well-struck drop goal to earn Connacht a gritty victory - their eighth on the trot at home.

Michael Bradley's men faced into a blustery wind in the opening half and Boyet had two early penalty attempts from the 45-metre range which he pushed to the right. Connacht hit the front on the quarter-hour. The destructive George Naoupu bulldozed across the gain-line, Ian Keatley knocked a penalty to touch and experienced lock Michael Swift, with support from Brett Wilkinson, crashed over to the left of the posts. Keatley landed the conversion but failed to punish France international Olivier Milloud for a scrum offence ten minutes later as his penalty effort drifted away from the target. Connacht had their tails up but they missed out on a certain try in the 27th minute. Scrum-half Murphy got a favourable bounce as he chased his own kick but, with the Bourgoin rearguard completely stretched, lock Mike McCarthy knocked on with the line in his sights.

The hosts paid the price just three minutes later as Bourgoin shunned a kickable penalty and hooker Tone Kopelani was able to burst clean through the middle of a ruck and dive over in the right corner, with Boyet converting. A foot in touch robbed Keatley of a try after good work by Niva Ta'auso and captain John Muldoon was also called back for a knock-on as Connacht pressed for their second try. They did not have long to wait as, five minutes before the break, a wrap-around move involving Kiwi Naoupu in midfield put centre Keith Matthews roaring through a gap and he drew the cover to send Muldoon powering over for a converted score. Boyet kicked Bourgoin back to 14-10 as half-time approached and although a late, pacy break from full-back Gavin Duffy engineered a penalty for Keatley, his drilled attempt from wide on the right faded in the difficult wind.

Bourgoin made changes for the second half, the most significant seeing Boyet reverting to full-back and Sebastien Laloo introduced. Indiscipline from Connacht soon allowed Boyet kick the first of two early penalty attempts, making it 14-13. The wind-backed hosts struggled for territory and Bourgoin took a deserved lead in the 58th minute when Senio spotted a mismatch on the 22, darted through a gap and dotted down despite the best efforts of Duffy. Boyet converted and the game seemed to be slipping from Connacht's grasp as Keatley missed a penalty from distance. However, with Sean Cronin, Swift, Muldoon and Johnny O'Connor putting in heroic displays, Connacht rose to the challenge. As Murphy looked to pass left from a ruck in front of the Bourgoin posts, Boyet slapped the ball out of his hands and a yellow card was the only option.

Nikora, on for Keatley, landed the resulting penalty and, after Laloo had missed a drop goal, the Connacht replacement rewarded his forwards with the levelling penalty. The momentum was clearly with Connacht now and, having missed a drop from further out just two minutes earlier, Nikora was right on the money with his 79th-minute attempt to send the westerners through to the last four of Challenge Cup for the first time since 2005.

Toulon booked their passage with a thumping 38-12 victory over the Scarlets at the Stade Felix Mayol with fly-half Jonny Wilkinson landing 13 points to end Wales' interest in Europe this season. Wilkinson was outstanding as Toulon ran in five tries, three in a rampant final eight minutes. For the Scarlets, Wales and Lions fly-half Stephen Jones kicked four penalties, but there was little else to cheer for the travelling supporters.

Wilkinson landed the game's first points after nine minutes with a superb penalty strike from the touchline. The Scarlets responded with a penalty from opposite number Stephen Jones, who then missed a far easier attempt to make it 6-3.

Hooker Phil Fitzgerald went close for Toulon after bursting away from a ruck, but the final pass found the arms of Jonathan Davies instead of a red jersey and it then needed a try-saving tackle from Kiwi centre Regan King on former Newcastle centre Tom May to deny the home side again.

The Scarlets moved ahead on 23 minutes with Jones rediscovering his accuracy with a long-range penalty. However, the lead was short-lived, with Toulon bringing a partisan crowd to their feet with the game's opening try from right wing Clement Marienval, created by a quick tap from skipper Matt Henjak and brilliantly converted by Wilkinson.

There were some ominous signs for the Scarlets as Toulon's pack began to exert control and with Wilkinson in imperious form with the boot. The fly-half extended the lead to 13-6 five minutes before the interval, then added another penalty on the stroke of half-time.

The Scarlets needed a strong response, but the second period started in the worst possible fashion for the Welshmen. There seemed little on when Marienval received a pass 35 metres out, but he showed a blistering turn of pace to chase his own kick, showing Scotland wing Sean Lamont a clean pair of heels on the way to the whitewash for his second try.

Two penalties from Jones reduced the arrears, then some great work from King almost brought the Scarlets a try. Toulon lost Marienval to the sin bin after 52 minutes, but the Scarlets failed to take advantage with Rob McCusker suffering a similar fate eight minutes later.

With the visitors tiring, Toulon ran in three tries in the last eight minutes through wing Jeremy Sinzelle, former rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams and the man of the match, flanker Olivier Missoup.

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