Croft injury setback proves blow for club and country

Leicester 47 Viadana 8

The Heineken glass was not so much half-full or half-empty as a little cracked for Richard Cockerill, and for Martin Johnson, at Welford Road. With a five-try flurry in the first half and then a scoring drought until a two-try flourish in the final nine minutes, Cockerill's Leicester reached the top of Pool Three ahead of their date with the Ospreys and European Cup destiny in Swansea next Saturday.

They got there with Julian White back on coal-face duty for the last 23 minutes, with Sam Vesty making his first start of the season, and with Toby Flood in the finest of prompting and place-kicking form at fly-half. Not that all of the pluses for club and for country could quite make up for the big minus of the damage done to Tom Croft's left knee.

The Tigers, England and British and Irish Lions' blindside flanker had only resumed back-row action the previous Saturday, playing in the final quarter of the Premiership win against Wasps, after five weeks out with a medial ligament injury to the same part of his 6ft 5in frame. Against Viadana, he was making his first start since 28 November and he never came close to finishing, cutting a picture of some distress as he was helped from the field with 26 minutes on the clock. The full extent of the damage will be determined by a scan today but the bad news for Leicester and England is that they can reckon without Croft until at least the back end of February. The Basingstoke boy will be out of the selection equation for the big Anglo-Welsh confrontation at the Liberty Stadium this coming Saturday and for the even bigger one at Twickenham on day one of the Six Nations, 6 February.

"He's done the same knee that he did in November," Cockerill, Leicester's head coach, reported. "It's the same injury, medial knee ligaments. That took five weeks. This will be similar." Which happens to be a big blow to England, someone suggested. "That's of no interest to me," Cockerill retorted. "He'll be out for next week, which is the interest for me."

The former England hooker might have been reading from the same script he delivered at the Madejski Stadium in October when White suffered a torn hamstring against London Irish, which kept the veteran tighthead prop out of action until he was summoned from bench duty to replace the red-hot Dan Cole in the final quarter on Saturday. It will take a little more time, and a lot stronger opposition, before it becomes clear whether the Devon farmer has the fitness and form required for national service.

As for Flood, though, two months into his comeback, the former Newcastle Falcon is firing on all cylinders. As well as a try and couple of tidy scoring assists, he landed five conversions out of five – making it a full glass of an afternoon for at least one Tiger.

Leicester: Tries: Hipkiss 2, Woods, Flood, Hamilton 2, Mauger; Conversions Flood 5, Vesty. Viadana: Try Canavosio; Penalty Law.

Leicester: 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), B Woods, J Crane.

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, A Benatti, J Erasmus.

Referee: J Jones (Wales).

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