Samoa put the first score on the board in the second minute before Leicester Tigers wing Varndell answered back from the restart, pushing off two defenders to fly in under the posts.
The Samoans led 21-7 at the break but then Varndell helped to inspire the comeback as he grabbed a second try in the left corner and then, as the buzzer went for full-time, England had a lineout and Exeter's Josh Drauniniu broke through to score the equalising try.
With the scores at 26-26 the match went to sudden death and it was Samoa who came through with the first score.
England: Isoa Damudamu (British Army/London Wasps), Rob Vickerman (Leeds Carnegie), Tom Varndell (Leicester Tigers), Ollie Phillips (Newcastle Falcons), Kevin Barrett (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Gollings (Gold Coast, Australia), Chris Cracknell (Exeter Chiefs). Replacements: Josh Drauniniu (Exeter Chiefs), Andy Vilk (Benetton Treviso), Charlie Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester Rugby).
Tries: Varndell (2), Phillips, Drauniniu
Conversions: Gollings (3)
Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009, Dubai, March 5-7
England results: beat Hong Kong 43-5, beat Tunisia 26-24, beat Kenya 26-7. Cup quarter-final England 26 Samoa 31