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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 16:03 GMT
Crafty Croft ready for step up
By Pranav Soneji and Andy Swiss

CROFT BIOGRAPHY
Tom Croft
Born: 7 November, 1985, Basingstoke
Teams: Newbury RFU, Leicester, England under-19s, under-21s, Saxons
Position: Blind-side flanker, second row

According to Dean Richards, he has everything.

Former All Black Aaron Mauger says he is the quickest back-row forward he has ever seen.

And Martin Corry believes England have never had a player blessed with his abundant abilities.

So, it is fair to say Tom Croft is a little special.

The blind-side flanker has been the talk of Leicester since his debut in November 2005, thanks to his phenomenal pace and agility.

His elevation into Brian Ashton's England squad has been equally swift - and according to Harlequins rugby director Richards, the 22-year-old is already equipped for the demands of the Six Nations.

Alacrity is not usually the outstanding attribute of your average number six, but Croft is not your average number six.

Training ground whispers suggest he is the second fastest player at Welford Road behind fleet-footed winger Tom Varndell, but Croft diplomatically plays the straightest of bats when asked to confirm the rumour.

"That was four years ago when we had some testing done," he told BBC Sport.

"We haven't had tests since so I can't keep hanging on to that.

If I get into space then I'll have a go

Tom Croft

"Tom Varndell is obviously leading the pecking order but it's pretty close as to who is second, third and fourth - all the way down. Hopefully, I'm still up there."

The New Zealand Maori will vouch for his astonishing pace, especially after his blistering 60m individual score which clinched the Churchill Cup for the England Saxons at Twickenham last June.

More impressive displays have since followed, including a two-try show in the Tigers' 42-13 victory over Harlequins at the Stoop last month, a performance which had even former England loose-forward great Richards glowing, despite his team's comprehensive defeat.

606: DEBATE

It is easy to see why Richards is so enthusiastic. A 6ft 5in, 16st English back rower equally comfortable in the backline, at the bottom of a ruck or jumping at three in the line is every coach's dream.

Certainly, Tigers coach Marcelo Loffreda thinks so, but Croft believes he still has the instincts of a traditional forward.

"The perception is slowly changing, but you can't lose physical edge which it (forward play) has always had," he said.

"You obviously need your powerful loose forwards but (modern-day) sevens need to have that edge to them, to be able to get across the pitch. Hopefully I can offer that pace playing at six as well.

Tom Croft poses for a photo in an England shirt
Croft has benefitted from the input of senior flankers at Leicester

"And if I get into space then I'll have a go."

Born in Basingstoke, Croft moved from his home town to Oakham School in Rutland at the age of 16, where his progress coincided with another brilliant England talent - although Stuart Broad's future was with a cricket bat and ball in hand.

Croft's development flourished under the watchful eye of former Leicester flanker Ian Smith, now Oakham's director of rugby.

And the influence of World Cup-winning back rowers Corry, Lewis Moody and Neil Back at Welford Road have helped Croft become an indispensible member of Loffreda's squad.

"He looks lean but he's very strong, very quick and very skilful," explained former Tigers and England captain Corry. "England have never really had his sort of player."

If Croft is given the opportunity to start against Wales on 2 Febuary, the Twickenham visitors may become sick of the sight of the back of the England number six shirt.



SEE ALSO
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09 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
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09 Jan 08 |  English
Cipriani ready for toughest test
14 Sep 07 |  English


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