News24

Croft eyes Lions chance

2009-05-15 06:45

London - England flanker Tom Croft has another chance to stake a claim for a place on the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in Saturday's Premiership final at Twickenham.

The Leicester player was omitted from the original 37-man squad but with Leinster's Alan Quinlan suspended for 12 weeks on Wednesday for eye gouging, head coach Ian McGeechan has to find another backrower.

Croft was considered the unluckiest player to miss out on the Lions but can now restate his case with another impressive display against London Irish on Saturday.

Leicester coach Richard Cockerill says the 23-year-old would have been in his Lions squad in the first place.

"Croft has been outstanding. He has been one of our best players over recent weeks and has been playing out of position in the second row. On form I would certainly be playing him," said Cockerill.

"The way he plays with his pace and energy is superb. He is great going forward and makes the sort of cover tackles that nobody else in the world can make. If it was me, I would be taking Croft."

Harry Ellis is the only Lion in the original squad on show on Saturday but London Irish's Delon Armitage could make a case for replacing injured Welsh centre Tom Shanklin.

Armitage was another unfortunate to miss out on the original squad but his ability to play full-back and centre, as well as his long range goal-kicking, could get him McGeechan's vote.

McGeechan's squad meet up in Surrey next Monday, before heading for Johannesburg on May 24 although he will have to release players involved in the European Cup final between Leicester and Leinster on May 23 back to their clubs for the week.

The final could also mark the last appearance of Mike Catt - at 37 the oldest player in the English league.

The London Irish veteran led his side to their first ever final with a virtuoso performance in last week's semi-final against Harlequins and coach Toby Booth has even suggested he could do a job for the Lions.

The World Cup winner will wait until the end of the season before deciding his future but will eventually take up a full-time coaching post at Irish.

For now, Irish are hoping Catt's big game experience will take them to a first Premiership title.

Catt said: "I've had a career spanning 16 years. I've been in a couple of World Cup finals and you need to make sure you take your opportunity. But it's absolutely enjoying that moment as well. The guys will learn so much from being at Twickenham."

Leicester are playing in their fifth successive English Premiership final but have won just one of the last four - in 2007.

AFP