Thoroughbred Racehorse

Were you one of the people questioning why Tom Croft made the Lions selection?  Check the tape of this weekend’s semi-final against Halrequins and you’ll see why.  Dude is as fast as lightning.

Gatland made his fair share of daft selections in his Lions squad, but none of them were in the backrow, where he has stacked his deck perfectly.  The watchword here is ‘variety’, because he has got players tailored to whatever game he wants to play.  Tackle the Aussies to a standstill?  Get Lydiate on the pitch.  Run at their forwards to soften them up.  Sean O’Brien is starting.  The ground is super-hard and dry and we’re going to put some width on it?  Dial +44-YEOMAN and get Tom Croft out there.

Croft tends to take his fair share of flak, and we haven’t always been complimentary of him on these pages.  He can appear to be a luxury player, a showpony who can go large tranches of a match without doing anything, looking to make flashy breaks but unwilling to do the hard, unshowy stuff.  The debate is not that dissimilar to that which rages over our own Peter O’Mahony, a similarly athletic presence who can make big plays in wide channels, but often requires other back row members to do a share of grunt work.  Croft shipped a lot of the blame for an anonymous performance against Wales in this year’s Six Nations, when the Welsh backrow completely dominated both he and Robshaw.

All of which is fair enough, but the point is that there is room in the touring party for a player with Croft’s unique set of skills (remember that he augments his pacy running with outstanding lineout ability) and athleticism.  Besides, the dry Antipodean tracks will suit him far better than the roly-poly sponges that the Six Nations was played upon, and while the rest of the squad are battling fatigue after an exhauting season, Croft is fresh as a daisy and just coming into his best form.  The idea that Tom Wood or Chris Robshaw would be selected ahead of this fellow is simply ridiculous.  In a world of identikit six-and-a-half-wearing-twelve-carries-for-fourteen-metres-gaining workhorse drones, he is a throroughbred racehorse.

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  1. Have to admit I was one of those questioning his selection. He was excellent on Saturday, what an incredible try, and that try-saving tackle was superb. That’s my main reservation with him normally, that he’s almost too ‘thoroughbred’ to consider putting his head where it might be damaged! He still only managed to make 4 tackles (and miss 1 according to ESPN scrum), highlighting what I don’t like about him. Still, as you say he offers a completely different skill set to the other back-rows and I’m a big fan of having genuine variety within a Lions squad. I’m starting to come around to his inclusion now!

  2. Yossarian

     /  May 13, 2013

    The comparison between him and POM is one i think a lot of the Irish media make.There is some gulf in class between them though.The try from 50 meters out was spectacular,not sure there are many backrows in world rugby who could have done it.Good lineout operator and i’m not sure you would survive the Lecister school of forward play if you don’t have it in you to front up.

    • Yes, all true. O’Mahony certainly posted a strong finish to the season, but he isn’t in Croft’s class yet. As you say, few backrows in world rugby could have scored that try, sensational stuff!

      Though we did hear – and correct us if we’re wrong on this one – that Peter O’Mahony once played wing in an AIL final…

  3. Leinsterlion

     /  May 13, 2013

    You hit the nail on the head WOC, he is a luxury player, not an international class six. Lineout ability and openfield work cant hide the fact he is soft/non existent in the tight. Salvi and Crane didnt get any plaudits, but their selflessness enabled Croft to prance about hogging the limelight. Expect a subdued 8 and 7 performance from whatever lineup Croft is in as they cover his shortcomings.
    SOB and Lydiate still streets ahead, both made of Granite, as for Tom Wood? I think his(alongside Monoa) utter domination of Kelly Brown and the Sarries back row speaks volumes, no flashy carries I admit, but he pressurised, tackled and harried Sarries to distraction as a 6 should do. Wood is not yesterdays man he is presumably still Englands six for a reason, far more rounded player than Croft, if not the highlight reel in waiting that Croft is.

    • Thanks for saying we hit the nail on the head, even if it appears we totally disagree!

      • Leinsterlion

         /  May 13, 2013

        LOL, you are in denial, it was a freudian slip calling him a luxury player.

    • Hogging the limelight? Was he not supposed to score a fantastic 50 meter try because it was too showy? I’d say his team-mates were furious with this blatant showboating? Take it down a notch there Tom. Aim lower!

      Seriously though, he’s a different type of player to SOB & Lydiate. I know that’s pointing out the obvious but where we seem to part company is that you seem to think that makes him automatically inferior. For me that’s one of the the great things about rugby. Different players who occupy the same position bring different strengths and weaknesses. Sure there are fundamental skills for each positon and for the game at large but isn’t it part of the beauty of rugby that different players bring different things to the table? Why should there be only one way to play 6 successfully?

      • Marvellous stuff Kate, you’re gas. I don’t want to be having a go at anyone, but I find it all a bit joyless when people can only find bad things to say about a forward who can run like a gazelle and score a try from 50m out. We all give out about Saracens and their anti-rugby… well this is the antidote!

        As you say, there are many things you can bring to a position, and, to reinforce the point, in a touring party there is definitely room for what Tom Croft brings. Sure, the 7 and 8 might have to play a bit differently (step forward clear-out monster Jamie Heaslip, maybe?) but he certainly merits his place.

        • For me the best thing about rugby is that it’s not the sole preserve of one type of person or player. That’s the magic. If all wings had the be 6 foot 4 monsters we wouldn’t have Shane Williams moments of magic. I know that’s the low-hanging fruit example but come on, variety is surely the spice of the game. I think we’re in danger of losing that a bit when it just seems to be about being large and in charge and the wings start to resemble the scrum halves who look like the backrows and they all play by numbers. Vive le difference and hurrah for 50 meter back row tries!

      • Leinsterlion

         /  May 15, 2013

        There isnt only one way to play six successfully, if the position is taken in isolation from the rest of the team and backrow cohesion. However, in the context of a team, most teams have cohesive backrows with defined roles. Its no coincidence all successful teams have a brutal 6 as opposed to a guy hanging out in the 12/13 channel looking for carries.
        When your six is playing like Croft it adds responsibility and work to your other back rows and messes up the balance.
        Easy target, but compare the Irish backrow with POM at 6 and Heaslip at 8 compared to Healip at Leinster. Which was a more cohesive unit? Which one helped the team more? The same can be applied across the board at international level, From SA when they play with Flouw or Brusouw at 7 to NZ who always play with a balanced backrow, to Wales without Lydiate, to France with any one of the top quality 6’s they have available.

        Its not about the leagueification of rugby, Its rather about keeping the traditional roles of a 6 as a bruising hulk in the mold Ferris, Juan Smith and one of favorite players Andre Venter, for the betterment of the team. For Croft to be in those positions, someone has to work twice as hard and in the long run the team will suffer as people exploit an out of position 6.

  4. Amiga500

     /  May 13, 2013

    I have seen it claimed that Iain Henderson is the fastest player at Ulster over the first 20 yards. He fair gassed a few Connachtmen a couple of weeks ago.

    I’d consider him a much better option for 6 than Croft. Got 99% the speed, but so much more grunt for the work of a proper backrow.

    • We can’t say enough good things about Hendo, but let’s keep the hype in check before it reaches O’Mahony-like proportions. He was selected on the bench with Robbie Diack preferred on Friday night. He’s brilliant, but still has a bit to go yet.

      • Amiga500

         /  May 13, 2013

        He’s been played at lock recently and been much the poorer for it. At the minute, he is definitely a backrower, and not 2nd row. Maybe in time…

  5. Spice

     /  May 13, 2013

    His try on the weekend was brilliant but again showed his somewhat ‘showy’ side. Dramatically placing the ball in the corner when he could have easily gained 10-15 yards for this kicker (he may have lost his footing but I’m not sure).
    On an Irish note Niall Morris looked good and if he keeps up this trajectory may deserve an International (squad) call up soon…

    • Ooooooooooooohhh that’s harsh. He was off balance from the almost-tap-tackle and surely wanted to grond the ball quickly for fear of putting a foot on the chalk. I mean, really, is it not a touch uncharitable to criticise a flanker for his grounding when he scores a try from 50m out? It was a moment to relish, a sensational try. There’s room in the world for sheer outrageous class.

  6. Buckfast Billy

     /  May 13, 2013

    “tailored to whatever game he wants to play” – you mean that there’s more than just a Plan A?!

    • Ha! Let’s hope so, though we share your fears that the Lions are just going to try to run over the Aussies. Selection at 13 will tell a lot. If it’s BOD, then we’re going to try and open them up. If it’s Manu or JJ, then… well, you know what’ll happen.

  7. Sound Steve

     /  May 13, 2013

    I think I lost all respect for Tom Croft when I saw Paddy Wallace pick him up and drive him back five yards at Ravenhill last season… Whatever happened to hard-nosed bruiser 6s?! However, he is a serious operator in a defensive lineout, awesome support player and can pull out a game breaking moment. I still prefer Wood though – good old uncompromising bruiser.

    I think the POM comparison there is a lazy dig. He obviously doesn’t have Croft’s gas but he is a far superior carrier in traffic and infinitely better on the deck.

    • That was certainly a ‘moment’ alright, but not every player can stand up to Paddy Wallace.

      No dig intended towards O’Mahony, though I don’t think he’s a great carrier in traffic, he’s effective a bit further out when he can use his big hand-off and beat off defenders. Agree he’s good on the deck.

    • Sound Steve

       /  May 13, 2013

      Also, who are ye lads supporting on Saturday? I should be loathe to cheer Toulon given how hospitable the Clermont fans have always been. I developed a great rapport with some of their fans on my last trip over there. Indeed after a pub session spent complementing each other’s teams on their sensational passing I ended up going back to a Clermont fan’s house to share his wine, his cheese and his wife. All that said, as a sound guy myself, it’s hard not to cheer for any team with Jonny “Nice Guy” Wilkinson at its core.

      • Clermont, 100%. After the famous 2010 game in the RDS, Leinster fans in general have huge mancrushes on all things Auvergnat. Besides, who could possibly support Toulon to win anything. Except the quarter final v Saracens, of course, where I cheered loudly when Wilkinson scored the winning points.

      • Yossarian

         /  May 13, 2013

        Toulon are the closest thing to Chelsea/man city to hit rugby.I know Claremont have a big budget and have made their share of signings but over a longer period and have worked to introduce french players of their own like Parra,Fofanna,Domingo,Rougerie etc. Toulon only had 3/4 french in their team and none locally produced.Also hate the rugby Toulon play,they remind me of Saraceans-and not in a good way!Claremont all the way,deserving winners!

    • Yossarian

       /  May 13, 2013

      actually just looked at Crofts low tackle count(4/1missed) maybe he is more like POM than i realised!

  8. Seiko

     /  May 13, 2013

    “The try from 50 meters out was spectacular,not sure there are many backrows in world rugby who could have done it.”


     /  May 14, 2013

    can’t believe it’s taken till now for a pedant to point out that it is thoroughBRED not thoroughBREAD!

  10. Peat

     /  May 15, 2013

    Croft takes a lot of slack as showboater and unwilling to the hard graft – personally, I think anyone who reckons that Richard Cockerill would tolerate such a thing is on drugs, a lot of high quality Class A hallucinatory drugs. Of course he’s not stuck right at the coalface as no coach wants to waste his athleticism there.

    I think Croft’s lineout ability might be a key factor in his favour this tour. Hartley’s the only one of the hookers I’d feel safe with as a thrower, and he’s about as useful and noticeable around the pitch these days as a fart in a cheese shop. Having someone like Croft to sling up for safe ball might end up being necessary with Youngs and Hibbard battling it out for the two jersey. A shame, as I’d like to see O’Brien trample a few people when not single-handedly trying to fill for a tight five, play 7, and do primary ball carrying duties all at once.

    • Really upsetingly for me, I thought Hartley played really well at the weekend. One of the best shifts I’ve ever seen him put in. I was deeply conflicted about the whole thing because I realyl don’t care for the guy and would rather he wasn’t touring. however, I don’t get to pick the Lions squad, mores the pity, and since he’s going I hope he plays like that & manages to avoid doing something monumentally stupid

  11. Peat

     /  May 15, 2013

    I didn’t get to see all of that game – but he is a very good player for Northampton. If he managed to bring some of that form to the England jersey, I’d like him an awful lot more. Instead he’s got ousted, in turn, under two different coaches, first by a broken down Steve Thompson, and then by a hobbit who’s still learning how to play hooker. Personally I’m hoping Hartley does a Quinlan, and that Best gets to go – and like Quinlan’s replacement, plays some test matches and looks good, to bring it all back to Croft.

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