Tom Croft is refusing to give up hope of squeezing into England’s World Cup squad, despite racing to recover from shoulder surgery.
The 29-year-old British and Irish Lions flanker has endured a wretched injury-ravaged three years, but last month earned a new Leicester Tigers deal on the strength of his raw abilities.
Leicester boss Richard Cockerill has branded Croft’s new contract a “risk”, but the galloping loose-forward himself is buoyed by his latest bid for fitness, and refusing to admit defeat on his World Cup dream.
England boss Stuart Lancaster will name an extended 45-man World Cup training squad on Wednesday, but is likely to reserve the right to draft in injured stars like Croft and Ben Morgan, should they recover in time.
For all the talk of Toulon’s Steffon Armitage potentially offering a differential with peerless turnover work, England do not possess the equal of a fully-fit and firing Croft for rangy athleticism and deceptive pace.
“I’m still in rehab and things are progressing well,” said Croft.
“I’m waiting for the shoulder to get back to full strength and seeing how we get on.
“The regular season will be done for me, but we’ll see where we are when it comes to World Cup selection and see what happens there.
“All the decisions will be made by the coaches.
“The wider squad will be named next week and we’ll see where I am.
“If they want to put me in that then brilliant. I’m battling to get myself back fit and right.
“World Cups are very much about luck, being fit and on form at the right time.
“It’s a very small window but I’ll do my damnedest to get back fit, rehabbed and everything, and then we’ll take it from there.”
Head coach Lancaster is expected to snub overseas stars like Toulon flanker Armitage when naming his initial World Cup line-up next week.
Gloucester No 8 Ben Morgan is still battling back from a broken leg, so could join Croft on an injury reserve list, bolstering England’s potential back-row options.
Croft has faced a career-threatening neck injury, knee trouble and now shoulder surgery in an unremitting three years, but remains confident he can put all that turmoil to bed.
Leicester boss Cockerill suggested Croft would face a six-month stepping stone to fitness last month, but the 41-cap flanker is still eyeing World Cup action.
England will launch their World Cup campaign against Fiji at Twickenham on Friday, September 18.
While Croft will throw everything at returning in time to trouble Lancaster’s selection process, he said England’s approach to their injured stars alleviates a level of pressure.
“The physios are always very aware of where all the England guys are in terms of how they are progressing, so the coaches will know all of that,” said Croft. “It’s not about me telling anyone I’ll be ready, I’ve just got to get fit.
“In some ways you feel about the World Cup it’s just about getting my body fit.
“I’ve struggled with injuries over the last couple of years, so hopefully the worst-case scenario is that I get fit and do the full pre-season with Leicester.
“And that would not be a bad place to be in at all – being fit and able to take a full part at the club, not bad at all!
“You just have to focus on getting fit and not rushing things.
“If you start fixating on certain dates the likelihood is that you’ll half-cook it and get yourself injured again.
“First things first, I’ll try to get back fit and go from there.
“The good thing about how the set-up with England is that because they know where everyone is, anyone who is recovering from injury can just focus all their attention on that.”