Six Nations: Leicester Tigers' Tom Croft back in England starting line-up for Wales showdown
Leicester Tigers flanker Tom Croft returns to the England starting line-up for the Six Nations showdown with Wales on Saturday - only his seventh game since a serious neck injury threatened his career.
Croft will be part of an England pack containing three other Tigers team-mates, Dan Cole, Tom Youngs and Geoff Parling, and replaces James Haskell in the back-row.
Tigers' Ben Youngs returns at scrum-half for the clash, in Cardiff, but Toby Flood misses out as Owen Farrell is preferred at fly-half.
Farrell missed the game against Italy with a thigh strain but he was passed fit on Monday and returns to the side in place of Flood, with Youngs replacing Danny Care.
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England head coach Stuart Lancaster said: "We have come a long way through the QBE series and the Six Nations and we want to finish well on what will be a fantastic occasion in Cardiff."
For the most important team announcement of his tenure, Lancaster's biggest decision was in the back row and he has opted to fast-track Croft back into the starting line-up.
Croft's last start for England was exactly 12 months ago. In April of last year he suffered a triple break to the C6 vertebra and a burst disc when he mistimed a routine tackle on Harlequins No.8 Nick Easter.
The Leicester flanker was told later that he had come as close to being paralysed as it was possible to be but he made his comeback for the Tigers on January 4.
After being given medical clearance to play every week, Croft was immediately recalled by England and he came off the bench against Italy.
He will bring a more mobile, athletic dimension to the England back row than the more physical Haskell, who is primed to win his 50th cap off the bench.
"Tom's extra lineout presence will hopefully give us an advantage. He is clearly a quality player and he has had a great impact since he has come back into the team," Lancaster told RFU.com.
"I see it as an 80-minute game. James Haskell's impact coming off the bench will serve us better."
Although Flood kicked all of England's points against Italy and did little wrong, Farrell has reclaimed the fly-half jersey after shaking the thigh injury he sustained against France.
The Saracens fly-half did not enjoy his best day against Les Bleus but he will bring control and defensive ferocity which England will need in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium.
"Clearly Wales will target that area and they will be coming down that channel and I am sure Owen will be ready for some work. We have got a big challenge coming our way but we will be ready for it," Lancaster said.
Farrell and Youngs managed the game expertly against Ireland in Dublin earlier in the tournament and Lancaster will want them to replicate that performance.
England are chasing their first Grand Slam in a decade but Saturday's clash is a genuine title decider, with Wales capable of retaining their crown.
Lancaster is yet to lose an away game in the Six Nations and he believes those experiences and the memory of beating New Zealand at home in December will stand his men in good stead.
"When you look at this Welsh side, there are not many weaknesses," Lancaster said.
"It will take an outstanding effort but we have done it before, we have been to away games and won. We have played the best side in the world at home and won.
"We have to deal with the occasion and play with composure and accuracy. There is a quiet self-belief."
15. Alex Goode (Saracens, 10 caps)
14. Chris Ashton (Saracens, 33 caps)
13. Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers, 20 caps)
12. Brad Barritt (Saracens, 15 caps)
11. Mike Brown (Harlequins, 15 caps)
10. Owen Farrell (Saracens, 15 caps)
9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 32 caps)
1. Joe Marler (Harlequins, 9 caps)
2. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 8 caps)
3. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 39 caps)
4. Joe Launchbury (London Wasps, 8 caps)
5. Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers, 16 caps)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers, 37 caps)
7. Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, capt, 16 caps)
8. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints, 17 caps)
16. Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints, 46 caps)
17. David Wilson (Bath Rugby, 25 caps)
18. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 8 caps)
19. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 19 caps)
20. James Haskell (London Wasps, 49 caps)
21. Danny Care (Harlequins, 40 caps)
22. Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers, 56 caps)
23. Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby, 3 caps)