Six Nations: England coach Stuart Lancaster delighted to unleash Tom Croft from the start against Wales in Cardiff

Last Updated: 15/03/13 7:08am

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Tom Croft: returns to England's starting XV at the Millennium Stadium

Tom Croft: returns to England's starting XV at the Millennium Stadium

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Tom Croft's selection for England's Six Nations decider against Wales in Cardiff was due to the added "presence" he brings to back row, explained coach Stuart Lancaster.

Croft is preferred to James Haskell at blindside flanker for Saturday's fixture, which England need to win to claim their first Grand Slam since 2003.

It will be the first time Croft has started for his country since suffering a triple neck fracture while playing for his club Leicester almost a year ago.

He made his international comeback off the bench during the win over Italy last week and has done enough to be upgraded to the starting XV.

"What tipped the balance were his performances for Leicester, the way he played when he came off the bench against Italy and also the way he's trained, the presence he's brought to the team," Lancaster said.

"(We'll see) whether he plays the full 80 minutes or not... The reason we've got James Haskell on the bench is because he covers six, seven and eight - and also James has done well off the bench for us (in the past).

"We'll make the decision as to if and when we use James as the game goes on."

Delighted

Croft is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Wales, who have won three in a row since losing their opening game of the tournament against Ireland.

"I'm just happy to be fit and back in the England squad at all. To get the start is brilliant," he told Sky Sports News.

"Wales are on an upward trend but we are focusing on ourselves and making sure we improve on what we did against Italy.

"In our minds we go in favourites for this game. If we get everything right, we are a very difficult team to beat."

Croft is one of four changes to England's starting XV. Joe Marler has reclaimed the loosehead prop position from Mako Vunipola and England revert to Ben Youngs and fit-again Owen Farrell in the half-backs.

Confident

Wales, who did the Grand Slam last year, need to win by seven points or more to claim the Six Nations title and Lancaster knows his relatively inexperienced side are in for a stern examination.

"We are pretty confident but very respectful of the opposition."
Stuart Lancaster

"They are a very experienced side in terms of the number of caps - I think they've got about 600 in their starting team compared to our 280 odd," Lancaster said.

"They have played in big games and they've closed out those Grand Slams in the last few years.

"Playing at home for any team is a big advantage but we go into the game with a strong self-belief.

"We've won four out of four in the Six Nations - which is a difficult tournament to win games in consistently - and we've got that New Zealand game (during the autumn) as well.

"We are pretty confident but very respectful of the opposition."

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