Points to prove: Bath and Leicester each have a man eager to impress the England selectors and capable of turning the final

Callard can rely on mental toughness
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The Independent Online
No one - least of all at Bath - being indispensable, it is stretching a point to suppose that Jonathan Callard is the man the champions and would-be cup-winners cannot do without. But that is the way it looks after a baleful experience at the hands of his club selectors.

Moreover, when Bath play Leicester in this afternoon's Pilkington final before an international-sized crowd of 75,000 at Twickenham, Callard will also have a point to make to England's selectors. In his all-too-brief Test career he has scored at an average very nearly as high as the 14 points per game of the New Zealand metronome Grant Fox.

It has not sufficed. Jack Rowell wants a "strike" full-back and the consistent Callard is evidently not it. That he has remained on the England bench is a tribute to his usefulness, if not quite indispensability, but when Bath also put him there - only two months ago, remember - it was complete folly as well as fundamentally unfair.

Not that Callard let it affect him other than as a stimulus. "I've been through it before, had the experience, and know what it's like," he said. "You can go overboard in self-justification and anyway the only thing to do was to fight it out."

Callard, who was 30 on New Year's Day, has this season been an unfortunate victim of circumstances beyond his control. Recalled to win his fifth cap against South Africa last November, he then promptly lost his place when Rowell decided he did not like the look of Mike Catt at outside-half and wanted him back at full-back.

Catt subsequently informed Bath he wished to be considered only in his England position and after Callard had missed most of his kicks in the narrow-squeak cup-tie at Wakefield he was dropped by Bath too, though he wryly reflects that three different excuses were made by three different people: captain, coach and manager.

As it turned out, Callard was a replacement only once - the quarter-final at Bristol - and his value was definitively proved when Bath, Callard- less because he was attending a memorial service, lost last month at Gloucester, a defeat that very nearly cost them the championship. Coincidentally, the reluctant Catt has been playing out of his skin at stand-off.

"I look back now on the South Africa game and, even accepting we made basic mistakes, we weren't given a second chance to see if we were good enough against the Western Samoans in the next match," he said. "There was a knock-on effect because of Mike's desire to play full-back but I believe the club are better off playing the pair of us than pitting one against the other."

So it has transpired. Once the Gloucester defeat had happened, there was never any doubt that Catt would be the cup-final outside-half and Callard the full-back, with Richard Butland, who missed the kicks at Kingsholm, now consigned to the replacement role.

Over recent weeks Callard has been considering his future, one of the many who have been subject to approaches from other clubs. As his relationship with Bath has always appeared equivocal, it would be no great surprise if he took what was on offer elsewhere - except that the lure and allure of this great rugby institution remain almost impossible to resist.

Callard was born in Leicester - a nice irony, given today's opposition - of Welsh parents but was raised in Newport and made it as far as an extended Wales training squad during his time with the Newport club. In fact his move to Bath in 1989 was prompted mainly by a desire to enhance his Wales chances, but within weeks of the change he had been offered and accepted a place on an England B tour to Spain.

The following season he withstood the challenge of another newly arrived full-back, Jon Webb, and played in the cup-final annihilation of Gloucester. But in the 1990-91 season Webb, who went on to become England's record scorer, established himself and Callard had to content himself with mostly second-team rugby for three long years.

Small wonder, then, that he is so fatalistic. Almost as soon as Webb had retired in 1993, Callard himself was the England full-back, most memorably landing the last-kick winning penalty against Scotland in 1994. What was that about triumph and disaster? That phase of the Murrayfield hero's England career was to last one more match.

"You can't fully appreciate the good times without going through the bad as well," he said. "Being at Bath instils you with the mental toughness to get through the disappointments. It's almost a form of character assassination but you do come through it a better person. If you don't, you've failed anyway." Meaning that for Jon Callard failure would be no more or less than losing to Leicester today.

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