Cockerill backs Croft for future honours
April 22, 2009
The in-form Croft was widely tipped to make this summer's tour to South Africa but did not make the cut © Getty Images
Leicester boss Richard Cockerill has told Tom Croft that he may yet be offered a chance to tour with the Lions because the flanker's versatility makes him the obvious first choice on the reserve list for the tour to South Africa.
Croft heard the Lions' decision while on the Leicester training pitch and was immediately told by his new head coach that his opportunity will come. "Tom is disappointed, but a ball has not been kicked yet and players who were not originally picked have been called up on past tours and have played big parts.
"You hope Tom might get an opportunity to go out and show what he can do. I believe he is one of the world's best players in what he does. It's a little bit of a shame, but let's not get too carried away. Tom is young enough to go on the next one, but a player always want to go on the now one," Cockerill said.
Croft has made a big impression in Leicester's outstanding form since Christmas which has lifted the Tigers to the top of the Guinness Premiership and into the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup.
Cockerill said he was surprised at Ian McGeechan's decision to leave Croft out. "Tom does some things that other players can't do. I am a bit disappointed, but Ian is a very good coach and he knows what he wants. He's been there and done it."
Leicester played Croft at lock in the Premiership win over Saracens last Sunday, but Cockerill believes him to be best at blindside flanker, though the way he talks about his ability then he could easily play in the back five of the pack or outwide.
"He is a six and does that job very well," Cockerill said before outlining Croft's talents. "We can use him out wide for his running, for his line-out ability, his kick off ability, the high ball stuff, he gets through a lot of tackles and a lot of work.
"His impact off the bench means he can win games because he has the ability to score from 50 or 60 metres. I would have thought those qualities might have been good enough to get him in the squad, perhaps, not as first pick but certainly as a utility player or, depending on how you want to play, as an impact player off the bench."
Cockerill had the task of placating Croft while also congratulating Harry Ellis, the Leicester scrum-half who is among the group of England's eight Lions.
For Ellis, the selection is a personal triumph after overcoming a serious knee injury which kept him on the sidelines for nearly a year. "Harry has a had a good Six Nations for England and deserves to go on form. He has regained his form over the past year and credit to him. There was never a question of him not playing again even though it was a bad injury."
Cockerill also had a word of support for Leicester's veteran forward Julian White. The prop might yet be included on back up list due to his srummaging power which the former England hooker believes makes him among the strongest tight heads in world rugby.
"That's one aspect of the South African play that is not as strong as it could be and Whitey is certainly could cause some damage," Cockerill said.
He has told Leicester's squad that they cannot afford any slip ups on Saturday, against Bristol, because all players are out to book their places for the following week's Heineken Cup semi-final against Cardiff Blues at the Millennium Stadium.
Even though Leicester are virtually assured of finishing top of the Premiership, Cockerill has demanded full attention to play the bottom team at the Walkers Stadium, the game being moved from Welford Road due to redevelopment.
"We have won nothing yet but at least we are in position to win something. Now we have five games to go and we have a chance of winning two of the biggest trophies in the northern hemisphere."
Leicester's run of success has clinched Cockerill the head coach's role following the departure of South African Heyneke Meyer before Christmas. Despite talk of a world-wide search for a successor, Leicester have settled on a loyal club man who joined Tigers some 20 years ago.
"If I had lost eight out of eight then I would have been quite happy to go back to being a forwards coach. I was not quite sure about the whole thing at the start of it, but as things started to go well you sort of think that there is an opportunity here.
"People love me at the moment but we will see when we lose two or three and you have to deal with different problems," Cockerill smiled.
Richard Cockerill was speaking to promote the Guinness Premiership final. It is the world's biggest club rugby match. Be part of it at Twickenham on May 16. www.guinnesspremiership.com/final