England add Croft to Six Nations squad
LONDON (AFP) –
Leicester flanker Tom Croft was added to England’s training squad on Monday ahead of this weekend’s Six Nations fixture against Italy, while Owen Farrell is set to miss the Twickenham clash.
Croft has recovered from a serious neck injury which initially looked set to keep him out for the entire Six Nations campaign and, after playing in last weekend’s win over Sale, England coach Stuart Lancaster has opted to call up the 27-year-old.
Last April Croft damaged his neck while tackling Harlequins back row Nick Easter and his comeback, which began in January, has been carefully managed since.
The turning point in his rehabilitation came last week when a visit to the specialist revealed the injury had healed completely.
“Tom has been seen by a specialist, played back-to-back games and played 80 minutes at the weekend and did extremely well,” said Lancaster, whose side are chasing a first Grand Slam since 2003.
“In consultation with the medical teams and (Leicester director of rugby) Richard Cockerill, we’ve brought him back into the camp. He’s available for Italy and Wales.
“It was never a selection decision, always a medical one, making sure he’s right physically to come back and play at international level.
“One of the key markers was playing back to back games. That box was ticked when he played 80 minutes on the weekend and played outstandingly well.
“As soon as he was available, we definitely wanted to bring him back into camp and make him available for selection.
“It’s great to have him back. He’s a British and Irish Lion from 2009 and you saw from his performance at the weekend that he’s in form.”
Croft, who played all five of last year’s Six Nations matches, has 36 caps for England and Lancaster believes his experience could be vital in the final two matches of the tournament.
“Tom is one of our most experienced players who has played at the highest level,” Lancaster said.
“When we go back to the Six Nations last year he was outstanding and was a key leader as well as player. He brings a lot.
“It was a serious injury that forced him to miss the South Africa tour, the autumn internationals and now three Six Nations games. He’s worked extremely hard to get back to fitness and into contention.”
However, Croft’s promotion is offset by the loss of Farrell, who was unable to recover from the thigh strain sustained against France, meaning Toby Flood will start against Italy.
“Owen’s still got the quad injury which I want to make sure has settled down completely. It’s fair to say that you can read into that that Toby Flood will be starting,” Lancaster said.
Although he is likely to miss the Italy clash, Lancaster revealed Farrell could return from the injury against Wales at the Millennium Stadium on March 16.
Flood will resume in the number 10 jersey against Italy with Freddie Burns in line to feature on the bench, but number eight Ben Morgan’s chances of participating are receding due to his ankle problem.
“Ben and Owen are both unlikely to be available for the game. Ben’s still on his return to running program,” Lancaster said.
“Owen’s still got that quad injury that I want to make sure that has settled down completely.
“You can read into that that Toby Flood will be starting, it’s fair to say.
“We’re pretty confident that Owen will be fit for next week.
England number eight Billy Vunipola is expected to train this week after recovering from an ankle problem, but Lancaster doesn’t plan to make major changes to his starting line-up.
“There won’t be hundreds of changes, we’ll keep consistency in selection,” he said.