Croft relishes 'dream come true'
Tom Croft openly admits that gaining a prized place in the 2013 British and Irish Lions squad was not on his radar this time last year.
And it is hardly surprising given that he was recovering from a broken neck and subsequent surgery that required the insertion of a metal plate and four screws.
"This time last year I just wanted to get back and play," said back-row forward Croft, who starts against Western Force in Perth on Wednesday. "At best, I imagined the likes of Ben (Youngs) and Manu (Tuilagi) being here, while I'd hoped to be in Argentina with England, so to pull the Lions jersey on again is a dream come true."
Croft only returned to action in January, but he went on to play key roles for RBS 6 Nations runners-up England and Leicester as the Tigers landed their first Aviva Premiership title for three years.
"Because I've been out, I've played fewer games than the others, and I am that much fresher and less fatigued," he added.
"The last (Lions) tour I arrived having played in 39 games. This time it is less than 20, so I am that much fresher.
"As for the neck, that's now the strongest part of me. When I come off after a game it's other parts that hurt, not the neck. Maybe I need more metal-work throughout my body! But, no, it's not something I worry about. If I did, I wouldn't be playing."
Croft shone for the Lions in South Africa four years ago after being called up as a pre-departure replacement when Ireland forward Alan Quinlan was suspended.
He ended up playing in all three Tests against the Springboks and returned home with his reputation enhanced, and while Test selection is again the ambition this time around, immense back-row quality within the Lions group means it represents a tough task.
"We spoke today about how you may only get one chance on tour in these preliminary games, and you have to take it," Croft said. "You dare not come off the pitch with regrets that you didn't give it absolutely everything, because you will only have yourself to blame."