LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - England's back row options for the Six Nations clash at home to Italy this weekend have increased after Leicester's Tom Croft joined the squad on Monday after his recent return from a serious neck injury.
The Six Nations had looked an unlikely aim for Croft, who suffered a triple fracture to his neck a year ago but his return to first-team action with Leicester means he could play some role in England's push for a grand slam.
"The indications last week were that it might be a bit early for Tom to get involved in this Six Nations," England head coach Stuart Lancaster said in an RFU statement.
"But having played back to back games he has now had the all clear from the specialist and Leicester's and our medics.
"I also had a good chat with (Leicester coach) Richard Cockerill. He is happy with his form and we can clearly see he is playing well, but most importantly Tom feels he is ready - it is great to have him back in."
Croft made his fifth start for Leicester since returning in January last weekend, impressing in the thrashing of Sale, and while England do have plenty of options in the back row, the experienced Croft's return is a boost.
"We have competition in all places but the back row is very competitive and to have Tom available just adds to that so we are looking forward to seeing how he does this week," Lancaster said.
The 27-year-old has won 36 caps for England since making his debut in 2008.
England are on course for a clean sweep in the Six Nations after wins against Scotland, Ireland and France. They face Italy on Sunday and conclude against Wales in Cardiff on March 16. (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Mark Meadows)