Cockerill heaps praise on Croft
May 9, 2009
Leicester's Tom Croft closes in on the Bath line during their clash at the Walkers Stadium © Getty Images
Leicester Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill has backed forward Tom Croft to force his way into the British and Irish Lions squad next week.
Croft had another superb match as Leicester beat Bath 24-10 to power their way into the Guinness Premiership final. And Cockerill wants Croft to get the reward of a Lions place if Munster flanker Alan Quinlan is banned, as expected, when the disciplinary hearing relating to eye-gouging allegations against him is heard on Wednesday. Quinlan is accused of gouging Leinster's Leo Cullen and faces a minimum 12-week suspension if found guilty.
Cockerill said, "Croft has been our outstanding player. On form like today, if Quinlan doesn't go on the Lions tour then Croft should be next on list. On form, Croft has got to be a shoe-in. I'd certainly be playing him."
Leicester's victory came hot on the heels of their historic penalty shoot-out triumph against Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup semi-final last week and sets up the club for a momentous double. Lewis Moody, another potential replacement for Quinlan, came off the bench to score a late touchdown after Dan Hipkiss and Sam Vesty had notched tries and scrum-half Julien Dupuy had added a penalty and three conversions.
Bath's points came from touchdowns by scrum-half Michael Claassens and number eight Stuart Hooper but, while they gave everything in terms of work-rate and commitment, they never looked likely to eclipse a team who had also knocked them out of the Heineken Cup.
Cockerill said, "We've got a side full of guys playing really well. I was a bit nervous at 17-10. But we made them tackle and scrum hard. We were not lucky. We played better than them. No one could say we didn't deserve to win.
"We were a bit impatient sometimes and I knew they would come back at us. We were a bit sloppy after half-time and at 17-10 I was hoping we wouldn't go to extra-time again."
Bath coach Steve Meehan said, "We have done well in Europe and the Premiership this season but we need to kick on again and freshen up mentally. We just were not on our game in the first half and I don't really know why."
Cockerill, who was confirmed as head coach only three weeks ago, is confident Leicester can come away victorious from both finals.
He said, "We're going to try to win them. If we play to our best and they are better, fair play to them. But if we don't play as well as we can, we will be really disappointed. I think we can do it. Whatever happens, we've had a good year."
He played down his involvement, however, saying: "It's not just me. We've got some very good players. Is it a tiny bit down to me? Maybe. But it's easy here because we've got good players."