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Croft leads Academy graduates into the big time

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Tom Croft will make Leicester Tigers history when he becomes the club's first Academy graduate to win a British & Irish Lions Test cap against South Africa on Saturday.

Tigers Academy manager Neil McCarthy hopes scrum-half Harry Ellis will become the second after being named among the replacements for the first Test in Durban.

McCarthy said: “It’s great that Crofty is in the starting team and Harry is in the Test squad too. It will be a great boost for them to play for the Lions and it will be a great boost for the Academy here.”

In a landmark weekend for the Tigers Academy, graduates Dan Cole and Matt Smith are with England Saxons in the final of the Churchill Cup, while Ben Youngs, Jack Cobden, Will Hurrell and Greig Tonks are looking to taste World Junior Championship success with England Under-20s as they face up to New Zealand in the final.

Add to that Sam Vesty winning his first senior England cap this summer, and the involvement of Louis Deacon and Lewis Moody with England, and it is proving to be a busy summer for Tigers’ Academy products.

McCarthy said: “It is testament to the club that they value home-grown players and that is realised in the resources that are put into the Academy and the fact they want home-grown players in a Tiger shirt.

“It is a pat on the back for all of the staff who are involved in the Academy, from the people who work in the EPDG and identify these players to the staff who work with them at Oval Park.”

Tigers chief executive Peter Wheeler says the progress of the Academy products provides great satisfaction at the club.

“Turning on the television last weekend and whether it is Dan Cole and Matt Smith in Denver, Ben Youngs in Japan, Tom Croft and Harry Ellis in South Africa or the guys down in Argentina, it was good to see how they are getting on,” he said.

“It gives us such a lot of strength that some of our top players have come from within and been with us for a long period of time and then go on to become not only internationals but world-class internationals.”