Tom Croft's perfect timing creates late Six Nations opportunity

Leicester flanker makes comeback from neck injury and could claim place in England squad

Tom Croft has a funny knack of being in the right place at the right time – think back to the Lions series against the Springboks in 2009, or England's fine victory over the French in Paris last year – but, by returning to Premiership action for Leicester at this moment, he is likely to generate more questions than answers.

If the 27-year-old flanker comes through unscathed against Worcester tonight, he will press an unexpectedly strong case for inclusion in the 32-man England squad for the forthcoming Six Nations, due to be announced next Wednesday.

Croft suffered a serious neck injury when he mistimed a tackle on his one-time England back-row colleague Nick Easter during a league match at Harlequins last April and has not played senior rugby since.

The feeling at Leicester is that he is nowhere near ready for Test rugby, even off the bench: they point out that he is currently being managed as much by the club's medical staff as by the coaching staff, and that his playing time will be strictly rationed until the back end of March.

But Croft was injured when Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, last named an elite squad last July and it may be that the man in charge is reluctant to deprive himself of a player of such unusual gifts, both as a line-out jumper and an explosive ball-carrier.

If Lancaster sticks with him, someone in the phalanx of England back-rowers will be squeezed out – quite possibly the long-suffering Phil Dowson, who has drifted towards the margins of the national squad, despite his bristling form for Northampton.

Leicester travel across the Midlands to Sixways heavily armed. Croft is part of an unusually substantial loose-forward unit featuring the Tongan forward Steve Mafi on the opposite flank and Thomas Waldrom, the recently deposed Test No 8, at the back of the pack.

Mathew Tait, one of English rugby's lost talents, will be given another run at full-back, but there is no place for Manu Tuilagi, a little short of his best since making some serious dents in the opposition during his adopted country's startling victory over the All Blacks last month. Matt Smith replaces him at outside centre.

Meanwhile, the chaotic comings and goings at Sale continued today with the arrival of the 31-year-old All Black breakaway forward Daniel Braid, who played the last of his eight Tests for New Zealand in 2010.

"He joins us at a critical stage of our season," said the Salford-based club's chief executive Steve Diamond, who has taken on the additional duties of rugby director for the second time this season after the abrupt exit of another former All Black back-rower, John Mitchell, a few days ago. "Daniel is a hard-working flanker who tackles and reads the game well. He is an important signing for us and I'm sure he will fit in perfectly."

The son of Gary Braid, who won All Black Test caps as a lock in the 1980s, the newcomer is a hardened Super Rugby veteran, having turned out for both the Blues in Auckland and the Reds in Queensland.

Like many high-class open-side flankers in the land of the silver fern he found himself playing second fiddle at international level to Richie McCaw, and opted for a move abroad after failing to secure a contract for this year's Super 15 tournament, which begins next month.

Even though he plays in the position currently occupied by the Sale captain David Seymour, the New Zealander is seen as a significant capture by a club still slumming it at the foot of the table after months of turmoil on the personnel front.

As they were celebrating Braid's arrival today, the club were bidding a reluctant farewell to Hendre Fourie, the naturalised South African who was first capped by England in 2010 and was within touching distance of making the squad for the 2011 World Cup.

Fourie played only three games for Sale after moving from Leeds, where his aggressive ball-winning performances earned him the respect of his peers. He has been suffering from serious shoulder problems for the last 15 months and, after three bouts of surgery, has retired on medical advice.

Former Australia coach Bob Dwyer, 72, who also took charge of Leicester and Bristol, is recovering after suffering a heart attack.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
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

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past