Inside the Tigers’ Den - Tigers put their hands up for Lions Test side

Tom Croft on the attack for Leicester Tigers against Harlequins. Tiger Images
Tom Croft on the attack for Leicester Tigers against Harlequins. Tiger Images

There is not a lot more Leicester Tigers flanker Tom Croft could have done to state his case for a place in the British and Irish Lions starting XV to face Australia in the first Test on Saturday.

The blind side flanker scored a trademark try from 30 metres out in the Lions’ impressive 47-17 win over a feisty and often clinical New South Wales Waratahs side.

The try was a thing of rugby beauty, nonchalantly handing off a Waratahs defender before dropping the hammer and racing in to score a try which only he is capable of.

It was Croft’s second try of the tour and his fifth for the Lions after he scored three tries on the tour to South Africa in 2009.

Leinster’s Sean O’Brien has also made a strong case for inclusion in the Test side and is Croft’s direct opposition for the blind side position. The two men offer Lions’ head coach Warren Gatland contrasting styles, with Croft providing an extra winger to the backs which might appeal to Gatland’s desire to go wide. However his side’s trademark this tour is power and few are more powerful with the ball in hand than the Irishman. Both men are worthy of a place in the squad however ultimately O’Brien’s versatility, being able to cover every position across the back of the scrum, may count against him starting.

Tom Youngs could continue his incredible rise to prominence with a Test start and a place in rugby folk law on Saturday if he is selected to start against the Wallabies.

The hooker now looks favourite to wear the number two shirt after his main rival for the position, Rory Best, has been named as captain of the mid-week side. Youngs had another strong performance against the Waratahs and most importantly finished with 100 per cent accuracy in his line out throwing when he was replaced by Richard Hibbard on 59 minutes.

His brother Tom has one last chance to stake his claim for a Test place when he starts for the Lions against the Brumbies tomorrow (Tueday).

Many have speculated that few players named in the starting side will feature in the first Test against Australia just four days later however Gatland has been unafraid of putting his stars out with little recovery.

He will be joined in the starting XV by former Leicester Tigers graduate Billy Twelvetrees, now of Gloucester, who will make his debut for the famous touring side after being drafted in from the England camp following injuries in the centre and a strong personal performance against Argentina in the first Test of England’s tour to South America.

Dan Cole and Geoff Parting both start on the bench, providing them with an opportunity to make their mark while not giving away Gatland’s hand about their chance of making the Test side.

Neither are expected to start with Adam Jones keeping Cole out of the side and impressive performances from Paul O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones all put confirming their chances of starting in the second row ahead of Parling.

Another Tiger whose chance of starting in the Test side has been boosted this week is centre Manu Tuilagi.

The Samoan-born England international was always likely to be named in the Test 23 if fit but with centre rival Jamie Roberts picking up a hamstring injury the odds on the Leicester man playing a significant role in the backs have shortened.

After five matches the Lions remain unbeaten, keeping the path for a place in rugby immortality still open but the tour will now amp up a couple of gears as the competition they face continues to improve and the three match Test series begins.

In other news

Martin Castrogiovanni’s transfer saga with Toulon has finally been resolved with the Italian prop announcing his move to the Top 14 club.

Castrogiovanni made 146 appearances for Leicester Tigers, his last coming in the Aviva Premiership Final, where he collected a fourth league title in his seventh year at the club.

In the past season the 31 year-old prop, who has played 97 Tests for the Azzuri, spent most of his final season at Leicester coming off the bench with British Lion Dan Cole claiming the tight head starting spot.