Croft retains Six Nations aspirations
January 14, 2013
Tom Croft reflects on his return from an eight-month injury lay-off%]
Tom Croft has his sights set on turning out for England in the latter stages of the Six Nations and has praised coach Stuart Lancaster for the faith he has shown in his players.
Croft retained his place in the latest Elite Player Squad that was announced last week despite having played minimal rugby for the Leicester and England over the past eight months following a neck injury that left him battling to save his career - not just his international status.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster insisted "it was only right for him to be in squad because of his standing" but despite this clear vote of confidence, Croft has played down any notion of him making an immediate return to the Test mix.
"I'm not sure when I'll play next but when I do you have to take that chance," Croft told ESPN. "One of the good things about Lancaster is that he shows loyalty in his players and I think the players appreciate that and then work harder for him as that is the sort of relationship you want to keep. It is a good way of going about the situation but for me, I am just happy to be involved in any shape or form I can be.
"The main priority at the moment is to get back playing for Leicester. Being picked (against Worcester) was a massive bonus but I've played 50 minutes of rugby in the last eight months so it was a bit of a shock. In terms of (England) involvement, the second-half (of the Six Nations) may be a possibility but it all depends on as and when the coaches see me fit and of some sort of use."
It looks as if Croft will have to compete with Northampton's Tom Wood and Calum Clark for the No.6 shirt with the latter's call up causing a few eyebrows to be raised. Clark has recently served a 32-week ban for breaking the arm of Croft's Tigers' team-mate Rob Hawkins last season but Lancaster believes the 23-year-old has learned from his mistake while Clark himself has been vocal in his desire to right his wrongs on the field.
Croft said of Clark's inclusion: "He's played well for his club and that's how you get recognised by your country. I think everything that has happened with Calum is in the past. He has served his ban and he is a good player. He has got the right sort of mentality to play international rugby."
With the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia looming large on the horizon, Croft's timely comeback from injury will inevitably lead to him being linked with a spot in the squad. He played all three Tests for the Lions when they journeyed to South Africa in 2009 and he was one of their players of the series. But Croft is quick to emphasise that the thought of another Lions tour is not on his immediate radar.
"I don't want to think too far ahead, there is an England summer tour as well," Croft said. "If I get back to form and if I am not involved in the Six Nations then maybe that England tour in the summer could be the target. When I was selected last time for the Lions, I wasn't expecting it at all. The Lions is a massive honour and a privilege to play and no player really ever expects to be selected. My aims are to get back to play for the club and anything else on top of that will be a bonus."
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.