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Rowntree full of praise for Croft

04th June 2013 17:41

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Special player: Tom Croft

British and Irish Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree has praised Leicester flanker Tom Croft after his comeback from injury.

Croft has been in an impressive run of form since returning from a serious neck injury for Leicester earlier this season, scoring a spectacular try in the Aviva Premiership semi-final against Harlequins before going on to lift the league title against Northampton.

The England flanker will now partner Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip in the back-row against the Western Force on Wednesday as he looks to challenge the likes of Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton for a blindside Test spot.

"He's a special player is Tom," said Rowntree.

"I have known him since he was a young man in the Leicester academy in my Leicester days. He has done exceptionally well to come back from a nasty injury.

"But his form towards the end of the season, indeed from February and March, was such that we couldn't ignore it as England selectors, and those performances have got him on the plane for this trip.

"He has got good competition. Dan Lydiate played very well on Saturday, so the challenge is there for Tom, and we've got other guys in the back-row that can play six as well."

Rowntree was pleased with the forwards performance in the set-piece against the Barbarians, despite the difficult conditions, whilst also expressing caution about underestimating the Force side on Wednesday.

"I thought we set the bar fairly high on Saturday in difficult conditions," added Rowntree.

"A lot of our proven guys that have played a lot of games found those conditions harder than anything, harder than altitude or anything like that.

"In difficult conditions and our first hit-out together, the guys set a high standard, and tomorrow's crew have got to move that bar up again.

"We've said to the guys the first three games everyone gets a start, so after the Reds game I think we have got to start making some decisions on combinations and having a look at people.

"And certainly by the Waratahs and ACT (Brumbies) games, we need to know who we are going to start with in the (first) Test, but at this point in time there is everything there to play for for everyone.

"I think we've got a great group of players - it is an exceptional group. It (Western Force team) is not a bad team. There are not a lot of guys there who have played a lot of Super Rugby, but it still looks a strong enough team for me.

"There has been a lot of local chat about how they want to play this game, how physical they want to make this game, and we've got to meet that challenge, whoever is on the field."