Tom Croft: “Oddly, I am probably training more while I’m injured than I would when fit. I get the chance to go out shooting every now and then which is a real release for me. You almost feel guilty not being fit so you train even harder, obviously taking care you don’t re-injure that same place. I want to make sure that my knee is as strong as it has ever been. Last year I injured my neck. It’s frustrating being injured, but then it gives you time to make sure your body is in as good a condition as possible. Shooting is becoming a bigger part of my life purely because it gives you something other than rugby. Whilst you’re playing, it’s just so full on; you’re in at 8am and you’re not done until 5pm, so it’s a proper day’s work. So, whether it’s clays or rabbiting, it’s just so enjoyable. It really freshens your mind up.”

What would an average shooting season involve?

“Whilst I am injured I tend to try and get out once a week, even if it is just out on the quad rabbiting and out for the birds too. Also, being able to get out stalking too. I have a good friend who owns a deer management company, so when I can help him, I do. Myself and Craig Newby have both grown up at Leicester Tigers, shooting together, so when we can help there, we do. In terms of numbers I would say when I am injured it’s once a week and when I’m playing it’s less due to sleep and resting the legs for the games at the weekends. Craig is the guy I go out most with, whether it’s boar, bird days or rabbiting. When I go back to Norfolk, where my wife is from, I go to my cousin’s house, the Youngs’ place; they farm as well as play for the Tigers. Ben and I will pop out for a bit of a walk around.”

How did you find shooting; were you from a country sports background?

“No, not at all. My parents were teachers and Mum really didn’t like guns at all, so I didn’t really pick one up until I was 20 or so… at a clay ground in Kibworth near me in Leicestershire. Some of my friends, who are farmers, had access to guns, so if I ever went over to their house I would get a chance to have a shot. I took it up massively when the guy from Cervus UK asked me to come up and do some coaching in return for a little stalking and that was what really ignited my passion for going out. I’ve done my DSC1, so I have enjoyed learning all about the various species too. It really does interest me. Initially when I first started shooting, cooking is kind of how I justified shooting things. It’s how I would justify it to my mother. And it’s still true now.”

Anything different last season?

“I haven’t had much chance for driven stuff because of injury; being on crutches isn’t that conducive to being able to shoot like that. I’ve had a few days since Christmas, although I was fortunate to go to Prague on a boar shoot. Easily some of the most interesting shooting I have ever done; shooting boar with a rifle, giving it lead… quite alien for someone who’s only ever shot moving game with a shotgun.”

What do you use in terms of guns at home?

“I use the same gun I bought with a lad in the academy when we first started, it’s a simple grade one Miroku. My friend Ben Pienaar still owns half of it. He has moved away and I should probably give him his money back. I have a Browning semi-auto which is quite handy when it comes to duck days. I also have a black powder hammer gun which is not the most accurate of things and it makes a hell of a bang and it fills the whole area with smoke, so that can be quite entertaining. I like the history behind guns and how they’ve evolved. I took an old deactivated shotgun apart just to see if I could and to clean it up. I did and it doesn’t seem to be working, so I think I need to get a few more books on it. The taking apart was fine, it was the putting back together I struggled with.”

Aside from Tom Croft, other Robert Cuthbert interviewees for Shooting Stars include:

Dame Vivien Duffield

Bryn Parry

Mark Hix

Lord Carnarvon

Heather McGregor

Simon Davis

Simon Heffer

Edward Stourton

Tom Parker Bowles

Peter Wilson

Danny Grewcock