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Hybrid pioneer up close or on long run

‘Hybrid’ hit the headlines in England’s build-up to the Georgia game – and The Tig couldn’t help but smile at reports of rugby revolution.

Eddie Jones hinted he could play an extra forward against the strength of the Eastern Europeans and the media went into overdrive.

Nothing new here, thought The Tig.

Look up ‘hybrid’ and you’ll find a description of one of the Leicester Tigers greats.

At times it was hard to work out whether Tom Croft was masquerading as a forward in the backs, or if he was a back in the forwards.

What we did know, though, was that he was brilliant at what he did, wherever he did it on the field.

His big pal Matt Smith – and for that matter Harry Ellis – were other Tigers high-quality hybrids as backs that the forwards wanted at their side.

But just because he liked to hang out on the wing and was built like a broad-shouldered 400-metre runner, doesn’t mean he skipped out of work on the frontline. He still won his turnovers, made his tackles and was one of the most reliable sources of lineout ball in the game.

Crofty announced himself with a long-range score against the Junior All Blacks in the Churchill Cup, dancing along the Twickenham touchline with the commentators audibly shocked.

And there was little let-up for the rest of a career which included honours with Tigers, England and the Lions.

Any description of a memorable Croft score against Quins at Welford Road would do it a dis-service, but the acceleration in midfield and the long stride to the line from inside his own half was as good as you’ll see anywhere.

He didn’t just finish it; he’d started it and created it too. It was like a footballer getting on the end of his own cross into the penalty area and blasting a volley into the back of the net. Goal 1, Assist 1.

For it to happen on home ground in front of the Tigers crowd was a sweet moment to savour.