Catt's full-back choice results in demotion

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Rugby Union

DAVID LLEWELLYN

Mike Catt has decided to step down into Bath's second team in order to remain England's full-back.

The South African-born player has been turning out at stand-off for his club while hanging on to the England No 15 shirt in the face of stern competition from Jonathan Callard, Bath's first-choice full-back.

Now Catt has informed the Bath selectors that he wishes to be considered only for full-back and that decision resulted in an immediate demotion to Bath United. Tomorrow he will be playing Orrell's second string at the Rec, while Callard and Co play in the Pilkington Cup at Wakefield.

"I have thought things over in the last couple of weeks and the only way for me to contribute to the expansive game England want to play in the next World Cup is to get used to playing that way at full-back regularly for Bath," Catt said.

"I am a better full-back than stand-off but I might be in the second team all season. I don't want to disrupt things but I have to look after myself. I know it is trying to eliminate a mate from his position in the club and it's going to be hard for both me and Jonathan.

"His goal-kicking is the factor standing between us, but I have a little more to offer as a runner than Jonathan, although he is having an excellent season."

Callard said: "It will make for an interesting time. I've faced challenges before so it isn't a new experience. I've got to get on with it and keep on playing well. No one at this club is indispensable, but if I hadn't got a worth to the side then I would be the first to admit it. I don't need to be told. I have faced bigger challenges. It is not too daunting."

Catt's England place does not look in danger with Les Cusworth, the England backs coach, applauding Catt's stand. "We would far rather Mike played full-back week-in, week-out and you have to compliment him for his decision.

"In an ideal world we would prefer him to play first-team rugby, but the lad is trying to better himself and people should say, 'Let's help him'. We are into player development and we have invested a great deal in Mike as a player."

Cusworth, the former Leicester and England stand-off, insisted: "The decision is Mike's alone. England have not had anything to do with it, but it is a brave one and we will just monitor the situation."

Catt accepts that he could be condemning himself to a season of second-class club rugby, but a number of players have been in that situation at Bath this season, including the Scotland internationals, Eric Peters and Dave Hilton, and the England wing Jon Sleightholme. This lowly status has not impeded their progress.

Bath have preferred Richard Butland, another South African, at stand- off for their rearranged cup tie at Wakefield - in fact that was the situation when the cup holders originally picked the team for the trip north two weeks ago - and coach Brian Ashton said: "We have two very good full-backs but they play in totally different ways.

"We have decided that it would be slightly foolish of us to go into a big game - and the cup-tie is a big game - without our No 1 goal-kicker.

Underwood on the way back, page 22

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