- Lancaster happy with strength and depth of squad
- Croft in frame for start against Italy
England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster has not ruled out Tom Croft as a potential starter on Sunday against Italy but maintains consistency in selection is important in his winning side.
Croft was drafted into Lancaster’s 36-man squad on Monday having returned this year from a severe neck injury which sidelined him for eight months. The Leicester Tigers flanker, who has 36 England caps, injured his neck tackling Nick Easter in his side’s clash against Harlequins last April and has only made five appearances since returning in January.
But crucially, the British and Irish Lion has come through back-to-back games for his club and his return to the England setup gives Lancaster further options in the back row, with the likes of Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Ben Morgan, James Haskell and Courtney Lawes all making appearances so far in this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
Captain Robshaw and Wood have started all three matches in the tournament, following up outstanding contributions in England’s QBE Internationals campaign last autumn. Before Croft’s injury the 26-year-old had been a favoured option at No.6, starting all five games in last year’s Six Nations and scoring a stunning solo effort against France.
Lancaster believes that the return of Croft to the England set-up will provide an even more competitive atmosphere but with England being the only unbeaten team in the tournament and on course for a Grand Slam, the Head Coach also recognises the cohesion that comes from making minimal changes.
“Tom’s return as we were unsure whether he would hit all the markers that he needs to get back to this level but I think his 80 minute performance at the weekend [vs Sale Sharks] did that and to have someone of his quality coming back in the squad is a great bonus.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
“It takes time though, good players tend to pick it up quite quickly and I am sure he won’t have forgotten it completely and I’m sure when he comes back in he will pick things up line out-wise and our defensive structure. He will have been watching our games and remembered how we play and what our systems are so hopefully he can do that. It’s still early in the week we are getting them to camp tonight and Tuesday Wednesday are two important days for him.
“The art of selection is that you make sure you change and rotate and give people opportunities, the right players the right time but you don’t want to make too many and have a team that’s not cohesive. We will probably make one or two changes but not many because we want to go well and we want to beat Italy first and foremost and need to give them the respect they deserve. They are a side that beat France and we want to make sure we get on top of Italy first.”
Outside of the back row Lancaster is faced with changing his fly half, after Owen Farrell limped off against France with a quad injury. Farrell has been a key points scorer this RBS 6 Nations, kicking 42 points but Lancaster says he is “unlikely to be available” for the Italy clash.
Leicester Tigers fly half Toby Flood, who is the most capped player in the England squad with 55, replaced Farrell against Les Bleus and notched up six points through two penalties. Having not started since England’s 16-15 loss to South Africa last November, Lancaster knows that Flood has been waiting for his opportunity and will keen to get a call-up on Sunday.
“He is one of our most experienced players,” said Lancaster.”In fact he is the most experienced player, and he has trained with us all Six Nations. He has waited patiently for his chance having started the autumn series and I think from his point of view he will be desperate to put a marker down for the final game, and not only that but for the Lions tour as well.”