British and Irish Lions 2013: Tom Croft surprised to receive call-up

British and Irish Lions 2013: Tom Croft admits he never expected to be included in Warren Gatland's 37-man squad

tom croft
Leicester Tigers back row Tom Croft Photo: SSE

Tom Croft admits he would have been just as happy with an England call up following his injury hell after being named in the 2013 British & Irish Lions squad by boss Warren Gatland.

The 27-year-old’s remarkable comeback from breaking his neck eight months ago was complete in Isleworth as Gatland named him in his 37-man touring party for Australia this summer – ignoring the likes of England skipper Chris Robshaw in the process.

Despite featuring just nine times this season for Leicester Tigers, Croft has demonstrated no lasting damage from his neck injury that he suffered against Harlequins in April last year, helping his side reach another Premiership play-off.

And Stuart Lancaster was clearly impressed with his return as he introduced him off the bench in a Six Nations win over Italy before starting him in the final loss to Wales.

Despite being fast-tracked back into an England shirt, Croft insists he didn’t let his mind drift towards another dream outing in the red of the Lions this summer, instead fully expecting to be back with Lancaster for the tour of Argentina.

This would have been a boost after everything he went through, but with a Lions tour to look forward to Croft can’t believe his luck.

“I think the achievement of getting selected in the first place to a Lions squad is massive,” he said.

“No player ever expects to play for the Lions and it is a massive honour and a privilege to be playing for them.

“You never say ‘yes I am ring to play for the Lions’ because you never think it is going to happen.

“It is hard to describe but the honour and excitement you get from pulling that jersey on for the first time, whether you are playing a midweek game or your first Test, it is just a very, very proud moment for a player.

“Like I said, no player should ever expect to play for the Lions and I was the same. When I broke my neck I set myself a target of being involved in the England summer tour and that would be a bonus but to be chosen to be with the Lions is something else.

“I never expected to be back with England for the Six Nations so to go from that to this is unreal.”

This will be Croft’s second Lions tour, and the flanker clearly enjoying himself first time around after being a late replacement for the banned Alan Quinlan,

Croft became the first Lions forward to score two tries against South Africa as he was given the nod to start the first Test against the Springboks and he is eager to add more happy memories Down Under.

“Just the whole thing mixed in, with it coming in every four years, it is just immense a Lions tour,” he added.

“The first one went past in a flash for me. It was a six or seven week tour and it felt like just one week. It is hard to actually remember a lot of the key elements because it went past so quickly but the memories are very special.

“One of the main things I remember is that everyone is just so happy to be there. Everyone pulls together and it doesn’t matter about your background or where you have been before, if you re on that tour then everyone is focused on achieving something and getting on with it.”

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