England flanker Tom Croft has hailed the National League pyramid after international latecomer Hendre Fourie stands on the verge of a place in Martin Johnson’s World Cup squad.
The 31-year-old South African-born openside, who this summer moved to Sale, excelled in National One for both Rotherham and Leeds, before going on to win promotion with the later to the Premiership and catching the eye of England boss Johnson.
A host of the current international squad have experienced life outside English rugby’s top-flight; Tom Croft came through the ranks at Newbury, while Dan Cole played at Nottingham and Bedford, and stand-in skipper Nick Easter played at both Orrell and Rosslyn Park.
Twickenham bigwigs have poured money into Premiership academies in recent seasons and also age-group rugby but according to Croft the likes of Fourie would never have been discovered and fast-tracked to England with an effective National League pyramid.
“Grassroots is of massive importance for the whole of rugby,” said Croft, speaking at the announcement of SSE’s three-year partnership as National Community Partner of the Rugby Football Union and title sponsors of the National and Divisional Leagues.
“Hendre Fourie has come from Rotherham and is now playing for England so that ladder does work – he is a very good example to others of what can be achieved.
“It’s exactly what the system is meant to do. You can play in a divisional team and a year or two later, be playing for your country.
“I think it’s important that people actually see that and that’s publicised because you have aspiring youngsters playing in divisional teams and thinking, “Is this really what I want to do?”
“But I think the fact is that players have played in those sides through to the Premiership and for their country and that should give youngsters the ambition to keep going and keep training and aspiring to play for England.”
While many pundits and former players alike are predicting Fourie will be one of the handful of players shelled from Johnson’s final World Cup squad, Croft is not so sure.
Johnson has an avalanche of options available to him in the back-row and Croft expects it to go down to the wire to see who will travel to New Zealand out of Easter, Chris Robshaw, Fourie, Lewis Moody, James Haskell and himself.
“We’ve got a lot of people who can play in the back row in the squad,” added Croft, who is helping to publicise SSE’s ‘What Clubs Need’ online survey, with Bracknell the first team to benefit with a donation towards their much-needed floodlights.
“Competition is very high in this six or seven week period, fighting for limited space on that plane.
“I think it’s very good for the squad, the fact there are more players than there are spaces because it means you have to be at your best all the time.
“When you’re given your chance at the weekend, you’ve got to take it because if you don’t, someone else will step in and do a better job.
“It’s a good place to be in the England squad but you have to wait to see the squad announced to see how you’ve got on.”
SSE, a leading energy company and National Community Partner of the RFU, is launching a new grassroots club rugby campaign, backed by Tom Croft. Tell us what your rugby club needs at www.SSErugby.com to win 2012 England International tickets.
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