English Rugby
Croft pays homage to Newbury
ESPNscrum Staff
August 10, 2011
England flanker Tom Croft pays tribute to his rugby roots

England back-row Tom Croft admits his rapid rise is squarely down to National League Newbury Rugby Club.

The 25-year-old, who was shortlisted for the 2009 IRB world player of the year award and who also toured with the British & Irish Lions in the same year, was introduced to rugby aged just 11 at Newbury Rugby Club. The England flanker eventually moved to Leicestershire and Oakham School in Rutland, before signing a deal with Premiership heavyweights Leicester in 2005.

But Croft, who started for England during last weekend's World Cup warm-up match with Wales at Twickenham, admits his early experiences at Newbury is what shaped his professional career with the Tigers.

"Newbury was a massive launchpad for me and my career," said Croft, speaking at the announcement of SSE's three-year partnership as National Community Partner of the Rugby Football Union and title sponsors of the National and Divisional Leagues.

"I originally played football until I was 11 but when that folded I thought I'd give rugby a chance.I went down to Newbury, which was my local club and they really got me into the game and I've never looked back since.

"That's where my taste for rugby developed. It was from under-11s, like I said, sausage, beans and chips after a game on a Sunday, playing with your mates and then slowly creeping up the ranks until you can play for your country.

"At Newbury it was always about just aspiring to play for the first team. The set-up at Newbury was very good, and you'd always see the first team play on the first team pitch and your goal would be to play on there.

"I think we played a couple of finals on the pitch - the Thames tournament, which Newbury has quite often won - and it's fond memories like, just playing rugby in that environment and playing purely for the love that inspired me."

Croft is not the only England player to have emerged from the National League set-up, back-row rival Hendre Fourie played at Rotherham, while prop Dan Cole enjoyed spells at Bedford and Nottingham. And Croft insists it's the set-up at clubs like Newbury up and down the country and not just Premiership academies that will continue to produce England stars of the future.

"I came from Newbury, while obviously Hendre Fourie has come from Rotherham and is now playing for England so that ladder does work in the National League," added Croft, who is helping to publicise SSE's 'What Clubs Need' online survey, with Bracknell the first team to benefit with a donation towards their much-needed floodlights.

"If you're playing well at grassroots, there is a system there which will progress you slowly up the ranks. If it wasn't for grassroots in the first place, then you'd struggle to pick up certain players, like myself. I was picked up through playing at Newbury so it's very important that, especially for junior and grassroots levels, it continues to function and function well.

"Local rugby clubs are very important to a community. Most communities have a football team because football is a very big sport in this country but I think rugby, especially after the last couple of World Cups is on the increase and I think having that central hub is crucial.

"Having the clubhouse - obviously for the more senior teams - having a bar there for after the match, having a junior teams that will come and train here on a Saturday and Sunday. It's what playing grassroots rugby is about."

SSE, a leading energy company and National Community Partner of the RFU, is launching a new grassroots club rugby campaign, backed by Tom Croft. Tell us what your rugby club needs at www.SSErugby.com to win 2012 England International tickets.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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