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Croft ready to fight for England place
ESPN Staff
July 2, 2012
Leicester flanker Tom Croft savours a try at the death, London Irish v Leicester Tigers, Aviva Premiership, Madejski Stadium, Reading, England, March 25, 2012
A neck injury means that Tom Croft won't be back in time for the start of the season with Leicester Tigers © Getty Images
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England flanker Tom Croft is well aware that he will face an uphill task to win back his place in the starting team in time for the autumn internationals.

The flanker injured his neck during Leicester's win away to Harlequins in April and is unlikely to return to action before October. The injury meant he had to sit and watch from the sidelines as first the Tigers lost the Premiership final to Quins and then England lost twice and drew once on their tour to South Africa. In his absence Exeter's Tom Johnson wore the number 6 jersey in all three tests, while another rival for the backrow positions, James Haskell returned to England colours for the first time since the World Cup last year.

"Playing for your country is the biggest honour you can get so to miss out on that is never nice and down in South Africa it was always going to be hard," Croft told The Rugby Paper. "No-one likes to see someone else wearing your shirt but my focus has to be club rugby and getting myself back fit as soon as feasibly possible. At the moment I don't know when I'll be coming back from the injury. I'm definitely not going to be back in time for the start of the season with Leicester. I'm back in the weights room which is good, but in terms of full practice and then getting back to competitive rugby, it's hard to put a time frame on it."

Aside from Johnson, England head coach Stuart Lancaster was able to further strengthen his backrow options by handing a debut to number 8 Thomas Waldrom in the second Test in Johannesburg. With captain Chris Robshaw and Northampton's Tom Wood also set to return from injury in time for the autumn internationals and Ben Morgan and Phil Dowson firmly established in the squad, Croft faces stiff competition to return to the starting team.

England face Fiji, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in the autumn and go into the series with a record of four wins, one draw and three losses since Lancaster took over. The failure to return from South Africa without a Test victory will mean that England's most recent win was the 30-9 win over Ireland on March 17.

"It's all about learning from this experience and building on it because we have a very hard set of autumn internationals coming up, and with experience of the Boks on their turf under our belt we will be a much better side come those games," Croft said. "Of course we want to be winning games, but if you're not winning and we were close at times, then at the very least you need to make sure you are improving and I think we are doing that."

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