Croft hails England unity
Tom Croft has revealed how a shift in the attitude of the England squad since the World Cup has helped take his game to new heights.
Last Updated: 14/03/12 9:50pm
Tom Croft has revealed how a radical shift in the attitude of the England squad since the World Cup debacle has helped take his game to new heights.
The Leicester flanker rekindled memories of his starring role on the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour with a commanding all-round performance in England's 24-22 victory over France on Sunday.
Croft has never stopped looking to build on that Lions experience, but it is only since Stuart Lancaster took charge that he feels he has really made a breakthrough.
The environment Lancaster has created is in complete contrast to that in England's World Cup squad where, according to testimony in the leaked tournament reviews, players were ''mocked'' by team-mates if they tried too hard in training.
Croft said: "You work a little bit harder now because you are surrounded by guys who are doing the exact same thing. You don't want to be the guy not doing it and letting the side down.
"Guys are setting benchmarks and you want to supersede that benchmark. It has a ratchet effect on people working as hard as they can, to lift the whole team up. It is about trying to be the guy to inspire.''
Lancaster and forwards coach Graham Rowntree are currently only temporarily in charge of England, but Croft believes they are beginning to draw the best from him.
And the 26-year-old added his voice to those of captain Chris Robshaw and other senior players who have endorsed Lancaster's application to be England's permanent head coach.
"Stuart set the guidelines in Leeds (at England's pre-tournament training camp) and the players have bought into that, taking ownership of the team,'' said Croft.
"That desire shows in our performances. We have three away wins and that has got to say something in terms of how things are going.
"It is not down to the players to decide (who will be appointed as head coach), but things are going exceptionally well and the players are happy.
"It is nice to have the same faces and the same structure so we know what is happening.''
Croft bossed the lineout against France, defended like a Trojan and scored a decisive late try with a turn of pace and finish that any outside centre would have been proud of.
But it is the unglamorous breakdown and close-quarter contact work that Croft feels he has been improving on since England came together at the end of January.
"I have not been disappointed how I have played in the tournament,'' said Croft. "In other games it has maybe been more of the unseen stuff. That physical side, that contact area around the breakdown has always been an area of my game which I have needed to work on.
"Graham (Rowntree) will be nudging you in the right direction, setting up drills for areas that he knows are a slight weakness in your game.
"He has made sure he has facilitated the time for me to work on that.''
Croft's chance with the Lions came following an injury to Ireland's Stephen Ferris, with whom he will go toe-to-toe in Saturday's RBS Six Nations finale at Twickenham.
Ferris already has one over on Croft this season, having inspired Ulster's 41-7 Heineken Cup humiliation of Leicester.
"He is a world-class player. If he hadn't have got injured on the Lions tour I potentially would not have got my chance,'' Croft admitted.
"He is leading the way in that Irish side. He's a phenomenal player, he carries well, he hits hard and his work rate is similar to Chris Robshaw. He seems to be everywhere.
"From a Leicester perspective, we were caught very, very cold away to Ulster and we had lost the game in the first 20 minutes.''