Croft to add extra dimension

Stuart Lancaster says Tom Croft's talents in the lineout will give his side an extra dimension after the Leicester flanker was among four changes to the England side to face Wales in Cardiff this weekend. [more]

Croft to add extra dimension

Stuart Lancaster says Tom Croft’s talents in the lineout will give his side an extra dimension after the Leicester flanker was among four changes to the England side to face Wales in Cardiff this weekend.

Croft joins halfbacks Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs and loose-head prop Joe Marler in starting the Grand Slam decider at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Croft came on as a replacement in the 18-11 win over Italy for what was his first England appearance since breaking his neck in April of last year.

The 2009 Test Lion replaces James Haskell in the back row as he looks to stage a late claim for a place in Warren Gatland’s squad to tour Hong Kong and Australia this summer.

“Tom’s extra lineout presence will hopefully give us an advantage in terms of securing our own ball and putting pressure on the Welsh ball,” said Lancaster.

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“He’s clearly a quality player. He played well for us in the Six Nations last year, he’s a British & Irish Lion and he’s had a great impact since he came back into the team.”

Farrell missed last week’s win with a quad problem, while Youngs and Marler came off the bench at Twickenham after head coach Lancaster opted to start with Danny Care and Mako Vunipola against the Azzurri.

Young lock Joe Launchbury passed a late fitness test to retain his place after hyper-extending his elbow against the Italians, while fellow second rows Geoff Parling and Courtney Lawes have also recovered from injury for the mouth-watering finale.

“It was a tight call between Joe and Mako but I see it as an 80-minute game. I know that both loose-heads, whichever way I’d gone, will make a big contribution to the game.

“Ultimately it came down to the fact that we believe Joe will give us the solidity in the scrum at the start of the game when everybody’s at their freshest and then, as the game wears on in the second half, Mako will come on and do his thing.

“Wales will target the 10/12 area. It’s one of their ways of getting some go forward off first phase. There will be big guys coming down that channel. I’m sure Owen will be ready for some work.

“We’ve been strong defensively and we know that, while we’ve got a big challenge coming our way, we’ll be ready for it.

“We have come a long way through the QBE autumn series and the Six Nations and we want to finish well on what will be a fantastic occasion in Cardiff. It will be a great experience for our English team.

“Every single player, whether they are in the 23 or not this Saturday, has contributed to getting us in this position and they should be proud of that.”

England (versus Wales, Millennium Stadium, Saturday, 5pm)

Alex Goode (Saracens); Chris Ashton (Saracens), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Muke Brown (Harlequins), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Ben Youngs (Leicester); Joe Marler (Harlequins), Tom Youngs (Leicester), Dan Cole (Leicester), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Geoff Parling (Leicester), Tom Croft (Leicester), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, captain), Tom Wood (Northampton)

Replacements: Dylan Hartley (Northampton), David Wilson (Bath), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), James Haskell (Wasps), Danny Care (Harlequins), Toby Flood (Leicester), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester)

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