POLL: Should Tom Croft play for England this weekend?

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The news broke yesterday that Leicester’s Tom Croft had been recalled to the England squad following a lengthy spell on the sidelines. It is great news for a man who suffered a severe neck injury towards the end of last season, and has not represented his country since the Six Nations last year. Making his return in January, Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill was determined not to rush him back into things and he has been used sparingly since.

Whilst his form has been good (or as good as it can be in five games), is it too soon for him to be considered for an international recall? His performance against Sale would certainly suggest he is ready, but the strains of international rugby are another step-up and the physical challenge Italy pose would be a huge test of if that is accurate.

Another question to consider is how would it affect the balance of the back-row? And how would he fit in? Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood have built an outstanding relationship and compliment each other superbly – but it could be argued that each player’s good form would not have been possible had the other not been on the pitch. If neither of them can be dropped (Robshaw obviously won’t be, Wood can be extremely aggrieved if he is), is a Croft-Robshaw-Wood the best option, with Croft on the blindside flank and Wood at no.8? Is that back-row too lightweight, perhaps lacking a ball-carrier in the mould of Haskell or Morgan?

Lancaster won’t rush him, and he is highly unlikely to start at the weekend. However, all his comments in the press point towards Croft’s inclusion in the squad.

What is your opinion? Cast your vote and share your opinion below.

Should Tom Croft feature this weekend against Italy?

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56 comments on “POLL: Should Tom Croft play for England this weekend?

  1. A quality player for England so good to have him back, but I think may be starting him is a bit too soon. I’d defintely have him on the bench, covering Haskell, with a view to bringing him on around the 50-60 minute mark.

  2. Depends entirely on whether he’s really 100% and whether he can get the lineout calls etc nailed down quick enough. If so, then he should compete with Haskell for the 6 shirt.

  3. A quality player, I’d … maybe have him on the bench. However, I do see Vunipola as the next man up in the back row – for balance reasons, as they need a ball carrier.

    But I’m very pleased he’s back, as he is a fine player, and neck injuries always give me chills.

    • I voted no, because I would prefer to see Vunipola in the 23 this weekend. Ideally give him a start so we have an 8 @ 8, but I’ll settle for a considerable impact off the bench!

      Back in form I think Croft brings a useful bench option, but after just 2 full games and no prior involvement in this campaign I don’t think he deserves to oust Haskell or Waldrom. But great to see him getting re-integrated with the EPS squad.

  4. Haskell shouldn’t be any where near the England team. Morgan and even the pudding Waldrom are streets ahead. I’d have Morgan at 8, move Wood to the blindside and have Croft on the bench.

    • Sadly Morgan is injured. Personally I’d start Croft at 6, Wood at 8 and Robshaw at 7 and have Billy on the bench. Bit harsh on Haskell who has done nothing wrong from the bench (he wasn’t so good starting!), but a good opportunity to look at two fresh (one new and one old) faces and see how they cope before Wales.

      Would prefer to start Croft as you don’t know how long he will last before he starts flagging. 80 minutes in an international is harder than 80 in the premiership.

      • The latest news I could find, from mid-February, was that Morgan is expected back for the Italy game. Have you got something fresher?

        If Morgan’s fit, Haskell’s gone in my opinion. Wood moves to blindside with Croft on the bench.

    • I think Haskell is excellent, particularly off the bench. He doesn’t make ground through defenders like he should, but almost every other aspect of his game is very good – breakdown, tackling, lineout, speed. Wood and Croft are class acts, but Haskell covers all three positions and deserves a place in the squad.

  5. I thought having Wood, Haskell & Robshaw was a reasonable call for Ireland as we needed 3 hard grafters to win the battle of the breakdown. Other than that the experiments of playing 6s @ 8 haven’t been too great (e.g. Dowson last year and Picamoles demonstrated what we were missing off the base of the scrum last time out).

    This time out I would prefer that Lancaster picks his best fit 8 @ 8 (personally would prefer Vunipola, but if he thinks it’s Waldrom I don’t mind) and then have Wood & Robshaw in their best positions.

    I would go for one of the following:
    Robshaw, Wood, Vunipola, Haskell (Sub)
    Robshaw, Wood, Waldrom, Vunipola (Sub)

    We lose some versatility off the bench in the second option, but the starting 3 can play across the back row, so we get our injury cover this way. Either way I think it’s key we get Vunipola involved, 20 years old ~20 stone, real pace off the scrum, good feet usually get him past the first tackle, incredible power through the second and third. He’s also got that little bit of a nasty edge, which I think the pack lacks (without Lawes). Combine this with some excellent hands and ability to offload we’ve got some prospect. Prone to the odd daft penalty, but he’s not alone in this. This is the perfect opportunity to blood him, if not this week then when?

    • agree with what you have said about vunipola. he is a real prospect, and i would like to see him get some time, be it starting or off the bench. one concern i have (other than the penalties which you pointed out) is that he is prone to about 2-3 handling errors a game too. i know this is because he carries so much, and you are bound to make the odd mistake, but at test level 2-3 handling errors translates to a bigger impact than in the premiership.

  6. Miles you are clearly mad! Haskell is a great player who really brings a huge work rate to the team in all aspects of play.

    I like Croft, but I’m not sure he can be justified as a starter. However Italy is an ideal game to ease him back into international rugby say round the 60-65 minute mark. From then hopefully he can build on it from there. Its worth remembering he brings a lot of positional versatility to the squad as i’m sure you’ll all agree!

  7. Of course, he could choose to play Croft and Vunipola/Waldrom from the bench, leaving Croft to cover second-row if need be.

    Not sure that this would be the greatest idea given that the Italy scrum is likely to be smarting after the Wales trouncing, but it is an option.

    More likely, Lancaster just wants Croft training with the match-day squad with a view to consideration for the Wales game.

  8. Please not Croft.

    England’s recent rejuvenation has been based around aggression at the breakdown. Quick support on our own ball and speed to the ruck followed by counter-rucking on the oppos.

    Wood and Robshaw are brilliant at this. They never stop going and are constantly involved

    Croft does not do the hard work. When he’s played previously, you’d see England being rucked off their own ball and where would Croft as blindside flanker be? Hanging about on the wing or in mid-field, pretending he’s one of the backs.

    Yes, he’s great at the line-out but if that’s the reason for choosing your blindside, then you need better locks. His ability there is a luxury, not a necessity.

    • recent reports have said that croft is spending a lot more time in the rucks than he used to while playing for leicester. he has also bulked up in his time off, enough for richard cockerill to say “he now actually looks like a rugby player”

      i think he will be told how to play for england, and if he doesnt stick to the game plan, then he will not get selected. yes wood and robshaw are leading the charge in terms of the breakdown work, but it was actually brought in by the coaches, they said before the NZ game that they wanted contained violence from the england team, and its what they got. i am sure they can try and get the same from croft.

      also the blend of the backrow, and the 2nd row, seems that it would work quite well with croft as long as he was in at 6 with wood playing 8. a backrow of wood, robshaw and croft could be very well balanced. (although i think that morgan/vunipola, wood and robshaw has a greater balance)

    • I think a lot of people use that as a criticism of Croft, but I’m not sure it’s that correct anymore. If you’ve watched any of the recent Premiership action he’s been involved in he’s been a lot more prevalent in the tight – against Sale he single handedly secured a turnover that lead to a try the next phase.

      Having said that, he is no where near as effective as Wood is there, so his inclusion would certainly upset the balance and put a far greater onus on Robshaw at the breakdown. Not sure if he is ready to/capable of bossing that area on his own.

      • I haven’t seen him since he’s been back from injury but if that’s the case, then its good news – especially if he’s put some bulk on as well.

        And even then, my concern would be that the extra bulk would stop him being effective in the loose and line-out without being correspondingly effective in the tight.

        Perhaps he can change the habit of a lifetime and become excellent in the tight, but I think I’d like to see that evident in more than a few games back from injury before England start considering him.

        Wood really isn’t an 8 although able to do a job there. England really need the strength and ballast of a Morgan type player.

        As for Robshaw, playing with Wood must help him but he wasn’t exactly shabby when previously playing with Johnson on the blindside

        Once Morgan is fit, I really don’t think you want to mess with Wood, Morgan, Robshaw (unless Vunipola comes through). In which case, Croft may be a good bench choice but then who do you lose? Courtney Lawes? James Haskell?

  9. I have opted for no. I think for the moment although Croft is a great player, he needs more game time before playing internationally again. So for the weekend I would love to have a back row of Wood 6, Robshaw 7, and Vunipola at 8. Not sure whether Parrise is still out? If he is then this would be the perfect time to give Vunipola his chance. Hopefully help to create some real competition with Morgan for the 8 shirt going forward.

  10. I’d fancy him on the bench. Move Wood back to 6 (please for god’s sakes!) and have Waldrom at 8. Lancaster’s been playing two backrowers on the bench so I reckon Croft and B. Vunipola to bench it and both to come on to test their international credentials for 20 minutes.
    Over Haskell, Croft is quicker, smarter and better disciplined and going forward I see the 6 shirt to be a battle between Croft and Wood for the next few years.

    • I think we might see
      6. Haskell/Croft
      7. Robshaw
      8. Wood

      With Croft/Haskell on the bench
      with Waldrom replaced by Billy.

      I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Billy start at 8. Depends on SL really.

  11. For the love of god no Waldrom. I’d rather have Easter and he’s gash in an England shirt.

    • Why not Waldrom? I keep hearing “he’s not dynamic enough” and then people say that they want Haskell or Vunipola because they run faster. The only thing I’ve seen him do wrong is once not pass the ball when there was a chance of an overlap.

      Waldrom is a brilliant carrier, a fantastic runner and try scorer, a great rugby brain and he’s done it all for England. So what is it in his handful of caps that he’s done to so upset a handful of England supporters? He’s certainly a lot more useful out there than Haskell who’s super power is to not break the gainline and get yellow cards for stupidity and Tom Wood who simply cannot play 8. Billy Vunipola doesn’t even have a cap or the Premiership performances yet to suggest he’s definitely better (not to say he’s not, but he’s not proven)

      • Vunipola’s performances in the premiership have far outweighed those of Waldrom this year. After all Waldrom seems to be spending more and more time on the bench for the tigers, because he is in a tussle with crane. Vunipola on the other hand has been so influential that he has managed to make Ashley Johnson have to convert to being a blindside.

        Waldrom has never shone for England. He had a few decent games for England in SA, but was made to look better because Morgan had been playing poorly.

        Comparing Haskell and Waldrom is like looking at chalk and cheese. Waldrom is a ball carrying 8 who spends his time hanging around the 10 channel waiting for ball to run at backs. Haskell is doing more work in the rucks, and when he takes the ball up he tends to take it off 9 or a forward near the rucks, running into other forwards.

        Compare Waldrom with Morgan (a similar type of player) and you start to see that Thomas the tank engine is not up to scratch.

        Morgan was deemed to be a bit out of shape by England, he toned up and added a yard of pace. Waldrom on the other hand looks like he should either be playing prop or sat on the sofa watching. He needs to be in better shape if he wants to fit in with this England and their gameplan.

        • I’m not necessarily arguing that Waldrom is the best 8. My argument is simply against this idea that he’s utterly useless which seems to be perpetuating among some members on this board. I’d personally probably choose Morgan over Waldrom, but some people don’t want Waldrom near the pitch, which I think is very wrong, especially considering how badly using Tom Wood at 8 has massively effected the England scrum. I’d like to see Billy Vunipola get some game time, but I’d always look to use someone who has been in the set up longer and give the new guy some time off the bench.

          My comparison between Waldrom and Haskell is all about the fact that Haskell is not an 8. Sure I’d put him there if desperate, but not when there is a real 8 sitting on the bench.

          • Agree with all of this, personally I think Waldrom is pushing Morgan for the shirt. Whilst I think he would benefit from having a bodyfat percentage more inline with other elite athletes he is still a fine player.

            That said I think I would prefer to start Vunipola this weekend, rather than an intro off the bench. Logic behind this is to give him as much experience as possible ahead of a massive game the following weekend. Not that we should be looking past Italy or anything, but without facing Parisse he’s got a good chance to settle in without being against a world class operator.

          • Matt, parisse has won an appeal against his ban, he will be free to play England, just read the story… Might change the selection policy of SL

          • Well that torpedoes my logic, still hope we see an 8 picked @ 8 though, let Wood get back to being a brilliant 6 rather than a make-do 8.

    • I thought Waldrom was unlucky to lose his place in the side and is second only to Ben Morgan at his best.

      • Tigers chop and change between him and crane. Waldrom isn’t the clear first choice 8 for tigers, so how can he be 2nd only to Morgan?

        • With Nick Easter out of the reckoning & after Waldrom’s performance in SA, I can’t think of any No 8 who’s better. Why Jordan Crane ever gets the nod at Leicester is a mystery to me.

          • My theory is that Crane knows some sort of secret about Cockerill that he uses as blackmail. Why else would he be allowed to wear white boots, the most heinous of crimes at the Tigers (especially for a forward!)?

            Waldrom is a vastly better player IMO, and while he has never quite translated his club form to the international stage, he will not let you down.

          • Ben Morgan, billy vunipola, Tom guest, Ernst joubert. Other than crane that is pretty much all other English qualified 8′s. the only ones left are the aforementioned crane and easter, Baxter, wray and Alex Gray… Could maybe add Sam jones to the list.

            I would probably take most of these names over Waldrom.

            With regards to why crane is chosen over Waldrom, it is because he suits the tigers’ gameplan more than Waldrom does.

          • Ah yes his goalkicking, only ever of use once – but what a day that was! I’m all for letting him keep them on in case that situation ever arises again.

  12. I would start with Wood, Robshaw and Vunipola, and have Croft in the bench. This is the perfect opportunity to give Billy a chance, especially as Parisse will not be playing. Croft adds something different off the bench, and Wood could switch to 8 to accommodate him.

    • It’s great that he’s back training with the EPS, but I would rather have Haskell on the bench after less than a week back with the sqaud.

      Of the options involving Croft this is the only one that makes any sense to me, so if Lancaster does go for this I will be of the “really looking forward to seeing how Croft goes” mindset.

  13. A bit early for Croft although he wil figure at some stage, as the England linwout has not been outstanding and is one of the areas we need to improve Croft offers a lot there.

    He is a very different pplayer to Wood, who offers a lot more at the breakdown than Corft.

    The N8, should be an 8, I haven’t been overly impressed with Waldron or morgan to be honest. Give Vanipolu a chance in this game. Wood and Robshaw to start and Croft coming off the bench.

  14. if he does start i think kvesic, vunipola and laes have every right to feel aggrieved (maybe not lawes actually). lancaster seems to have an agenda that allows him to claim he runs a meritocracy at first and then swing the other way and maintain ropey performers- ashton case in point- inexplicably. those waiting in the wings deserve their chance, croft is part of the future for sure but not the immediate future.

    think this sums it up nicely

    http://carsayer.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/tom-croft/

    • Don’t think Ashton is untouchable/sacred. We have to keep in mind we have a back 3 problem, not an Ashton problem. Brown and Goode have 23 caps between them and scored 0 tries. At the moment I would pick Scotland’s, Wales’, France’s and Ireland’s back 3 over ours. On form none of the back 3 have the shirts nailed to their backs, so why change the 1 player that has by far the best premiership strike rate of all his peers and the best international strike rate?

      • the back three i think will change as england gains momentum and can afford to gamble on the millions of decent but inexperienced options they have on the wings.

        ‘the 1 player that has by far the best premiership strike rate of all his peers’
        erm…. he’s not even in the top 15 try scoreres this season….

        • He’s only played 8 games for Sarries. He’s not in great form, completely agree. But he has a premiership strike rate, over a long period of time, over 60%. Only Wade comes close to this, most of his peers are less than half of this.

          Put it another way if I get a free bet (same return on each) as to who will score a try against Italy, (Goode, Brown or Ashton) my money still goes on an out of form Ashton.

          Our issue is back 3 tries and back 3 attacking threat. We are crap on the counter, so he has no one to run off like he used to with Foden, we are still pretty poor at strike moves and we aren’t great at spotting support runners and picking a pass.

          E.g. what happened last time we ran a decent strike move? Tuilagi smashed through, Ashton ran a great support line, Tuilagi timed his pass, Ashton scored. Give the proven finisher something to finish and he will finish it, just replacing the proven finisher with someone who scores fewer tries isn’t the answer.

          • All well and good explaining why he hasn’t been scoring tries. And I am sure the amount of tries that tuilagi scores means Ashton isn’t scoring. That’s all fair. But there is not doubt that his defence has been subpar recently, and that is something that can not be said about brown and Goode at the moment. It’s time to get a winger who is going to tackle, and one who can score some tries will be nice too.

            I agree that foden would help Ashton, and I think brown at 15 would help him too. The problem is that Goode is the one Ashton needs to run off on counters (as he is in the middle of the field) but Goode is more of a kicker than a counter-attacker.

            If SL is going to persist with Ashton, then the back 3 has to be 11. Foden 15. Brown 14. Ashton. With 12Ts at 12 to be the extra ball player.

          • Agree with your lineup, he seems to have a decent understanding with Flood as well.

            Only concern with picking Foden would be if he is sharp enough yet. Did anyone see how Foden went at the weekend?

            On Goode’s defense, his defensive positioning and sweeping is excellent, his physicality is not. Hogg is a small full back and ran over him like he was Lomu.

            If we do persist with playing the game in a way that doesn’t create any chances for a winger then we would be better off with 3 full backs. Ashton seems to get very frustrated in games he can’t get involved in, this seems to be where he is most prone to non-tackles and stupid off the ball temperamental stuff. He maybe someone who would benefit from some good sports psychology.

  15. Tend to agree with the comments about Ashton. He’s not in great nick, but we aren’t playing a game that suits him, and there isn’t anyone else really holding their hand up (with an all round game). Lancaster has done the business so far, so am still trusting him. Could be worse – we could have Howley in charge!

  16. wade/varndell have scored 20 tries between them this season in the premiership alone. you cannot ignore that when picking wingers.
    foden should never be on the wing and on recent form should naaat be 15 for england either.

    however slightly inclined to go with staggy above. SL has done well so far and has earnt my optimism- which my lack of last year meant i ignored eng/nz tickets. He can fill the entire team with full backs as long as we keep winning!

    • Doug I did caveat my answer about wingers to say “an all round game”. I am aware that several premiership wingers have been scoring tries for fun, but even their most loyal fans would have to admit problems with their defense.

      To be fair I don’t think many people expected the NZ result – you’re probably not alone!

      • thanks for the sympathies. it still hurts.

        ‘the best defence is a good offence’- all fijian coaches.

        • And yet plenty of my coaches have told me “offence wins games, defence wins championships”

  17. Spot on Matt

    It isn’t Ashton’s fault that he isn’t scoring more tries, he has proven that when there is a sniff of the line he will get there.

    This England team is playing some great rugby and I am very hopeful for the future, and happy but if we are to continue improving our creativity has to be high on the list.

    Our back three is probably the weakest attacking amoungst the home nations. Our inside player still don’t create a lot of chances even if they have improved. I would like to see England develop this against Italy.

    Foden needs to come back at fullback at some point, he is a great player and Goode is no more than a strong fillin, Brown as well.

  18. One question that I have is concerning Owen Farrells injury. If he is out if the Italy match and Flood starts then who is the back up fly half option? I think I am right in saying that Burns is still injured and I haven’t heard about a call up for anyone in the Saxons like Ford. Would that leave it upto Twelvetress?

    • Burns is back. He has been training fully with the squad this week. He aged for glous on the weekend just gone