Former England back-row Lewis Moody has hailed the return to Saxons duty of Tom Croft, adding that he hopes senior England action isn’t too far away.
Moody, speaking an exclusive interview with Planet Rugby, believes plenty of places are up for grabs in the team going into the Six Nations Championship.
One of those is the blindside position where he was championing the impact experienced former club-mate Croft could have in Stuart Lancaster’s side.
“For me Tom Croft being back playing rugby is great,” Moody said after the announcement. “There was an opportunity to include him (in the senior squad) as a line-out option but Stuart looked elsewhere and with Geoff Parling coming back that gives him a line-out calling option.
“I would love to see Croft being given an opportunity to get back in competing with Tom Wood for that number six position but hopefully we will see in the Saxons what he is made of. Having watched him playing for Leicester he’s certainly hungry and putting in a lot of tackles. Croft is a real dynamic athlete and I think he brings a lot to a side and the sooner we can get him back in that senior squad the better.”
Lancaster’s squad sees recalls for Nick Easter and Danny Cipriani after spells out of the international setup. Elsewhere there are returns from injury for British and Irish Lions such as Alex Corbisiero, Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs and Parling, which Moody views as a huge boost.
“It is a strong squad. You look at some of the guys who have come back in like those Lions and all are quality players so there’s a lot of strength in depth. Add in guys like George Kruis and Dave Attwood means you’ve got a much bigger squad that is quite confident,” he added.
“Kruis showed during the autumn that he is certainly not lacking any confidence when it comes to taking on responsibility at the line-outs, so there are some interesting conundrums that have been thrown up because of injuries to Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury for Lancaster.”
Of course, much of the attention has been focussed on Cipriani, Easter and Sam Burgess, with the latter handed an opportunity to impress Lancaster and his coaching team in the Saxons jersey against the Wolfhounds, a move Moody believes is the correct one in his progression.
“The Burgess inclusion is a good one and it is the right thing to do giving him that match in the Saxons,” the former Lion said. “I think Stuart will probably integrate him quite quickly into the senior squad after seeing how he gets on (against the Wolfhounds on January 30).
“It is though a frustrating period for Stuart because again he’s going into a campaign hoping to have his full strength squad to pick from and he’s missing a large group. It puts him in a slightly more difficult situation than he would have hoped to be in this World Cup year.
“I think we go into this campaign with some trepidation in terms of how we’re going to do as an England side. More than any other game this first match is crucial. Getting an away win against Wales sets you up nicely but if you have a first up defeat then you’ve then got Ireland away as well so it’s not going to be easy, he added before being quizzed on the debate of whether to go with solidity of flair in midfield.
“With Barritt you get a solid dependable performance from a guy you know will never let you down. You get a warrior-like tackle count and sometimes you need a man you can rely on, who will look after the youngsters and set an example about what it is to be a defensive leader.”
“What England are lacking is Manu Tuilagi and that attacking threat. Eastmond has been given a few opportunities and I thought his last game during the autumn was a strong one but then he was dropped for Billy Twelvetrees and Barritt. Jonathan Joseph’s performances in Europe and the Premiership have also been good and obviously there’s a big cry for him right now but I can’t see Stuart going away from what he knows.”
Facing whomever is selected in the centres is likely to be Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies at the Millennium Stadium while it is expected to be a Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar half-back combination with George North, Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert in their back-three.
Such consistency in the Welsh backline is one reason Moody believes Warren Gatland’s men have a slight edge going into the February 6 clash.
“I certainly think that in terms of continuity the Welsh backs have the upper hand but in class performers I think both teams are brimming with them,” Moody said. “You look at Mike Brown and George Ford and then the Welsh backline of Halfpenny, North and Cuthbert, two enormous men who can cause you a lot of a damage, and then one kicking machine who can cause you a lot of damage so it is going to be a challenge.”
“However, the line-out and scrums you know what you’re going to get from England which is a solid platform that will allow the backs to get good ball so the Welsh will do all they can with Alun-Wyn Jones to disrupt their line-out and I certainly think that for England to win in Wales they have to completely and utterly dominate that Welsh forward pack. If England can smash them off the park in Cardiff and also nick some of their line-out balls that would stop their dangerous backs getting into it and their kicking game then we will have a good chance.
“England have also got to be aware that any penalties given away could well cost them with Halfpenny, who rarely misses so they have to be disciplined and control the ball. The old clich