England back row Tom Croft is just happy to finally be back in action less than four months before Warren Gatland names his Lions squad to tour Australia.
The 2009 Test Lion started Leicester’s last-gasp Aviva Premiership win over Worcester on Friday night after a lengthy lay off with a neck injury.
Croft hadn’t featured for club or country since April following a mistimed tackle on Harlequins No8 Nick Easter at The Stoop.
The 27-year-old, who scored a brace of tries for the Lions in the first Test against Springboks four years ago, sat out Leicester’s Premiership Final defeat to Quins the following month and England’s summer tour of South Africa, as well as all four autumn internationals.
"I was just happy to be able to walk off the pitch this time!" Croft told leicestertigers.com after playing 50 minutes at Sixways.
"I felt a bit rusty, as Cockers (Tigers boss Richard Cockerill) reminded me, I did miss Jon Clarke for their try. But it would have hurt a lot more if we'd lost the game.
"It's a start. I got 50 minutes and I'm happy with that."
Croft’s extended absence has left him with little time to press his claims for the No6 shirt when the Lions head Down Under, although two of his main rivals for the blindside berth are in similar positions.
Dan Lydiate and Stephen Ferris are both currently sidelined so a strong showing for Croft over the coming weeks could give him a head start when it comes to selection.
But for now, he is simply pleased to have come through his first game back without any repercussions as he looks to step up his efforts in training ahead of the announcement of England’s EPS squad this Wednesday.
"Just being out there, that was probably the biggest test – with that last one or two per cent doubt or nervousness in the back of your mind – so it is nice to get that game back," added Croft.
"It was just coming through unscathed. You go to some dark places with injuries.
"But with the work of the physios and the medical staff at the club, and the specialist, you trust their judgement and Friday was about getting through it.
"To get over that threshold and actually play is great. Now I can start a normal life again with training on Monday."