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Croft caps recovery with England return
NORTH Hampshire rugby star Tom Croft returned to international action on Sunday, playing 29 minutes as a replacement in England’s unconvincing 18-11 win over Italy at Twickenham.
The appearance completed a remarkable comeback for the Basingstoke-born flanker, pictured right, who was sidelined for eight months with a broken neck and was told he was close to being paralysed.
He only started playing for club side Leicester Tigers again in January but his form clearly impressed England coach Stuart Lancaster, who recalled him to the squad last week.
England had a bad day on Sunday but led 15-6 early in the second-half thanks to five Toby Flood penalties. However, Italy then scored what turned out to be the only try of the match, Luke McLean collecting Luciano Orquera’s crossfield kick to touch down after a terrible box-kick by Danny Care.
That moved the visitors to within four points of England and with his side on the back foot, Lancaster turned to Croft, introducing him with 51 minutes on the clock.
Flood kicked another penalty to make it 18-11 and that turned out to be the final score, but it was Italy on the front foot late on, looking to pull off a shock win.
The victory means that England will claim the Six Nations title and grand slam with a win over Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 5pm). Even a defeat could see England win the tournament, as long as they lose by seven points or less.
Lancaster will name his team today and Croft will be hoping to feature again, possibly even in the starting line-up, as he looks to win a place in the Lions tour this summer.
Emma Croker, the wife of Basingstoke RFC director of rugby James, will be among the replacements for England Women’s final Six Nations game away in Wales on Saturday.
She had to settle for a place on the bench as the team beat Italy 34-0 last weekend and there is just one change to the side for this week’s final match.