Croft back on top with new England work ethic

Flanker says his dynamic Paris display was due to squad's renewed appetite on the training pitch

It is still hard to believe that young players were mocked by more experienced international colleagues for the heinous sin of training too hard during a World Cup, but then there were a lot of scarcely believable things about the England team as managed by Martin Johnson and company. Five months on from that benighted adventure in All Black country, red-rose rugby has rediscovered its values, its professionalism, its honesty. As Tom Croft said yesterday, everyone trains hard now.

The Leicester flanker's contribution to the fine Six Nations win in France last weekend was, by common consent, crucial: even if he had not scored the high-class try that gave England a two-score cushion deep in the second half, his line-out and defensive work would have marked him out as the best visiting player on view. According to Croft, his all-round performance – his best in a Test jersey since the 2009 Lions series in South Africa – was the product of a more intense approach to preparation.

"You work a little bit harder now because you're surrounded by people doing exactly the same thing," said the 26-year-old, who had been an early candidate for the national captaincy following the retirement of his old clubmate Lewis Moody. "You don't want to be the guy not doing it, the guy letting the side down. Everyone is out there setting benchmarks, so you need to be the person superseding those benchmarks. There has been a ratchet effect in training with players working as hard as they can and it's lifted the whole team. When you train now, you want to be the guy who inspires."

Croft was dynamism made flesh in the first two, brutally hard contests with the Springboks three summers ago and no one who saw him stampeding his way through Durban and Pretoria will easily forget it. Yet certain details of that tour are not so readily recalled, including the fact that Stephen Ferris, the Ulsterman, would almost certainly have beaten Croft to a Test place had he not mangled his knee ligaments early in the tour. Ferris is still hampered by problems in that department – indeed, it is commonly said in Ireland that if he is not in constant pain, it is because there is nothing left of the knee to hurt him – but this has not stopped him playing brilliantly in this championship. And who does Croft face at Twickenham this weekend? You guessed it.

"If he's missing a knee, it doesn't seem to be stopping him," the Englishman said. "Ferris is a world-class player, no doubt about it: he works hard, he hits hard. If it hadn't been for that injury in South Africa, I probably wouldn't have had my chance. That tour was a big step for me, and I'd like to think some things are falling into place again now. But twice in the last year I've been involved in teams caught cold by the Irish: for England in Dublin in the 2011 Six Nations and for Leicester against Ulster in this season's Heineken Cup. Irish rugby is strong at the moment. They'll be a big threat"

Chris Robshaw, the Harlequins flanker who beat Croft and a small handful of other candidates to the captaincy, plays the workaholic role in this England back row – he made 25 tackles in Paris, a very decent tally by any standards – and as a result, there is freedom for others to express themselves in attack. Both Croft and Ben Morgan, the new No 8, were able to trip the light fantastic at the Stade de France and it may just be that the coaches have pieced together a seriously constructive unit.

"I think Ben has grown massively," Croft said of Morgan, a little disconcertingly given the emphasis on getting the unusually substantial Gloucester-bound forward to lose weight. "Seeing him make that run and deliver that little pass out of the back of his hand to set up our second try against France – it's exactly what you want from a ball-carrying No 8. He's not just a bloke who trucks it up, but someone who can beat defenders and create holes. It's the sort of thing that leaves everyone wanting the ball in their hands. That's the point about this environment: we all want to be better than each other."

Fair enough. But did Croft really need to stand on the face of a fellow back-rower, the substitute Phil Dowson, in a mad scramble on the England line? "In my defence," he said, "Phil was knocked out before I stood on him. And anyway, it's a contact sport. These things happen."

Dowson, of course, plays for Northampton, who have an age-old derby rivalry with Leicester. No wonder Croft was laughing. The spirit in the England camp? Good, but not that good.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone