England’s revamp just the tonic for Croft

Tom Croft has revealed how a radical shift in the attitude of the England squad since the World Cup debacle has helped take his game to new heights.

The Leicester flanker rekindled memories of his starring role on the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour with a commanding all-round performance in England’s 24-22 victory over France on Sunday.

Croft has never stopped looking to build on that Lions experience, but it is only since Stuart Lancaster took charge that he feels he has really made a breakthrough.

The environment Lancaster has created is in complete contrast to that in England’s World Cup squad where, according to testimony in the leaked tournament reviews, players were “mocked” by team-mates if they tried too hard in training.

Croft said: “You work a little bit harder now because you are surrounded by guys who are doing the exact same thing. You don’t want to be the guy not doing it and letting the side down.”

Croft’s chance with the Lions came following an injury to Ireland’s Stephen Ferris, with whom he will clash in Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations finale. Ferris already has one over on Croft this season, having inspired Ulster’s 41-7 Heineken Cup rout of Leicester.

“He is leading the way in that Irish side. He’s a phenomenal player, he carries well, he hits hard and his work rate is similar to Chris Robshaw. He seems to be everywhere.”

Meanwhile, Scotland head coach Andy Robinson insists Italy is his sole focus amid suggestions he might resign after the RBS 6 Nations.

Robinson has been in charge since 2009 and is contracted until the 2015 World Cup, but prior to his third Six Nations in charge made it clear he was determined for Scotland to shed their “unlucky losers tag”.

The former Bath and England boss has support in many quarters and is understood to have the backing of the Scottish Rugby Union – although Saturday’s match in Rome could have a major bearing on that – but declined the opportunity to unequivocally state he has no intention of walking away.

Asked if he will be in charge beyond the tournament, Robinson said: “I’ve got a contract to 2015. I just focus on this next game.

Ireland women’s coach Philip Doyle has made one change from the side that defeated Scotland last weekend for his Triple Crown chasing team to face England on Saturday. Gillian Bourke comes in at hooker with Paula Fitzgerald named in the replacements.

Simon Crawford and Hugh Hogan have been ruled out of the Ulster Bank Irish Club team to play England Counties in Preston Grasshoppers RFC tomorrow night. Young Munster’s Liam Og Murphy comes in for Crawford while Clontarf’s Frank Cogan replaces Hogan.

The captain’s armband passes to Cork Con’s Gerry Hurley with Dolphin prop Christy Condon named as vice captain.

IRELAND WOMEN (v England): A Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), N Kavanagh (UL Bohemians/Munster), N Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster), G Davitt (Cooke/Ulster), A Miller (Portlaoise/Highfield/Connacht), L Cantwell (Exile), A Davis (Blackrock/Leinster), F Coghlan (UL Bohemians/Leinster) (Capt), G Bourke (UL Bohemians/Munster), A Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), S Spence (Exile), M Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), L Guest (Highfield/Munster), C Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), J Neville (UL Bohemians/Munster).

Replacements: P Fitzpatrick (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), R O’Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht), S Fleming (Tralee/Munster), H O’Brien (Highfield/Munster), L Muldoon (Exile/UWIC/Ulster), S n Houston (Blackrock College/Leinster), J Murphy (Exile).

ULSTER BANK IRISH CLUB (v England Counties): R McBurney (Ballymena), C Aherne (Lansdowne), K Lett (Clontarf), M Kelliher (Young Munster), C Quinn (Cork Constitution), C Ronaldson (Lansdowne), G Hurley (Cork Constitution) (Capt), R Sweeney (St. Mary’s College), G Slattery (Young Munster), C Condon (Dolphin), P Donnellan (Cork Constitution), F Walsh (Shannon), L Og Murphy (Young Munster), B O’Mahony (Clontarf), F Cogan (Clontarf).

Replacements: H McGrath (Young Munster), R Byrne (UCD), D Hall (St. Mary’s College), N Melbourne (Young Munster), B Slater (UCC), B Keeshan (Dolphin), J Thompson (Ballynahinch).

Scotland team to play Italy: S Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); M Evans (Castres), N De Luca (Edinburgh), G Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), S Lamont (Scarlets); G Laidlaw (Edinburgh), M Blair (Edinburgh); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (capt, Edinburgh), G Cross (Edinburgh), R Gray (Glasgow Warriors), J Hamilton (Gloucester), J Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), R Rennie (Edinburgh), D Denton (Edinburgh).

Italy: A Masi (Aironi Rugby); G Venditti (Aironi Rugby), T Benvenuti (Benetton Treviso), G Canale (Clermont-Auvergne), Mirco Bergamasco (Racing-Metro Paris); K Burton (Benetton Treviso), E Gori (Benetton Treviso); A Lo Cicero (Racing Metro-Paris), L Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers), Q Geldenhuys (Aironi Rugby), M Bortolami (Aironi Rugby), A Zanni (Benetton Treviso), R Barbieri (Benetton Treviso), S Parisse (Stade Francais).

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