Monday 11 December 2017

Flanker Croft overcomes bad break to roar again with the Lions

Tom Croft
Tom Croft

Patrick Johnston

AFTER overcoming a broken neck to win a place on the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, copping a black eye from a team mate is fairly inconsequential for England flanker Tom Croft.

The Leicester blindside, who played in all three against South Africa four years ago, will wear the Lions jersey once again on Wednesday when he starts against the Western Force in their first match on Australian soil.

That seemed a ridiculous notion, though, when Croft went to see a specialist last year to be told he had come as close as possible to being paralysed after fracturing vertebrae in three places when he mistimed a tackle in a match against Harlequins.

"It is just great to be back playing," Croft told reporters in Perth on Tuesday about the injury that kept him out for nine months.

"The injury was pretty gutting at the time and I went into some dark places but the support back home from the club and country kind of brings you through.

"I think subconsciously, in the back of your mind, you appreciate it more now. I never thought a year ago, I would be playing for the Lions again. Tomorrow (Wednesday) I'll get that chance."

An undisputedly strong and powerful runner, the hard and fast Australian pitches should suit the towering England international, who scored two tries against the Springboks in Durban four years ago.

He has been quick to return to imperious form in recent months since the injury and helped Leicester claim a 10th English title last month with a victory over Northampton at Twickenham.

But his chances of a starting place against the Wallabies in the first test on June 22 in Brisbane is hampered by the strength of the tourists' loose forwards.

TAKING CHANCES

Dan Lydiate did well at blindside as the Lions trounced the Barbarians 58-9 in Hong Kong on Saturday, while the form of openside flanker Justin Tipuric in the opener might force tour skipper Sam Warburton into the six jersey.

Croft, though, is not concerned.

"Its a great position to be in to have that amount of talent and quality within the squad," the former sevens player said.

"When you get your chance in a game you have got to try and take that chance and put your hands up for the test positions.

"You may only get one chance or two chances to put your hands up and show what you can do over here on the fast tracks.

His chance will come against a highly experienced Force back row with former Wallabies Matt Hodgson and Richard Brown picked to start amongst a number of novice names for the Australian side.

The Force have promised the Lions a physical encounter at the Subiaco Oval but Croft has found training with his Lions team mates painful enough already.

"That was Paul O'Connell - in a non contact session," the 27-year-old said of the bruising around his left eye.

"I think we were just on the floor and Paulie lost control of his elbows, I think he actually did it to Matt Stevens as well, so he has ticked two of the boys off.

"I'm not even in his position and he is still trying it," he joked of the Irish lock's attempts to take out the competition for a Lions test jersey.

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