Croft injury is a blow for club and country

Leicester Tigers 47 Viadana 8

This was not the best of afternoons for Richard Cockerill, the Leicester head coach. Nor was it a good one for Martin Johnson, the England manager. Twenty-six minutes into this formality of a bonus-point victory in Leicester's penultimate Heineken Cup Pool Three fixture, Tom Croft was helped from the field by two medics.

"He's done the same knee that he did five weeks ago," Cockerill said. "Same injury. That took five weeks. This will be similar."

Which means that Cockerill and the Tigers can forget about their Lions blindside flanker for their potentially decisive match against the Ospreys in Swansea next Saturday – and Johnson and England can do likewise for the first half of the Six Nations' Championship at least.

The painfully ironic twist for poor Croft was that he was making his first start since recovering from the medial ligament damage to the left knee that he suffered against Leeds at Welford Road on 28 November. "It's just purely bad luck to injure the same knee in the same spot," Cockerill said. "It's a shame for Crofty. He'd certainly be in the 23 for England."

It was not all bad news for Johnson. The tighthead prop Julian White returned midway through the second half for the first time since suffering the torn hamstring that did for his autumn international prospects. And Toby Flood, two months into his comeback, was in the finest of fettle, showing precision of Wilkinsonesque vintage in kicking five first-half conversions, the majority from tight angles. The Leicester fly-half also scored one of the tries as Cockerill's side summarily dismissed their Italian visitors.

Viadana hardly had the most auspicious of starts, Pierre Hola, their Tongan fly-half, hoofing the ball directly into touch from the kick-off, and they managed to hold out for all of five-and-a-half minutes before the England centre Dan Hipkiss bolted through a barn-door-sized gap for the first of his two tries. To their credit, Viadana then managed to stem the tide until the 21st minute. But at that point the dam burst.

By the 34th minute the Tigers had three more tries and the bonus point in the bag, the flanker Ben Woods having applied a scoring touch to a tidy little grubber kick by his back row comrade Jordan Crane, Flood having sniped his way over and the full-back, Scott Hamilton, having hared half the length of the field to score in the right corner.

Flood further distinguished himself with a telescopic pass out of the tackle for Hamilton to score Leicester's fifth try just before the interval.

Flood's conversion made it 35-3, but it was to be his last scoring contribution of the match and Leicester's last for some time. The former Newcastle player made way for Aaron Mauger 12 minutes into the second half and it was not until the 56th minute that the scoreboard started ticking again.

It was Viadana who got it moving, their scrum-half Pablo Canavosio racing up the left touchline to score after Hamilton and the wing Lote Tuqiri collided while going for a high ball.

It took the Tigers until the 71st minute to get their first points of the second half, Sam Vesty, making his first start of the season, slipping an inside pass for Hipkiss to score and then kicking the conversion. There was also a try for Mauger, making it seven in all. Plus the major blow on the injury front, of course.

Leicester Tigers S Hamilton (J Murphy, 59); A Tuilagi, D Hipkiss, S Vesty, L Tuqiri; T Flood (A Mauger, 51), B Youngs (J Grindal, 57); M Ayerza (B Stankovich, 68), G Chuter, D Cole (J White, 57), L Deacon (capt), G Parling (L Moody, 59), T Croft (C Newby, 26), J Crane, B Woods.

Viadana G Law; M Pratichetti, S Cox, L Johansson, M Sepe (S Pace, 43); P Hola, P Canavosio (M Wilson, 63); P Sciamanna (M Cagna, 62), L Ferraro (capt; R Santamaria, 66), J Garcia (L Milani, 72), C Del Fava (G Krause, 54), S Hohneck, A Persico, J Erasmus, A Benatti.

Referee: J Jones (Wales).


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