Rugby Union Diary: Catt becomes a fly-half and a half

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The Independent Online
TWO YEARS ago this week, a plane touched down at Heathrow carrying Mike Catt, a little- known fly-half from South Africa. Catt had come on a five- month visa to visit relations, but the return half of his air ticket was never used. The relations can't have been half bad, but it was Bath RFC who persuaded Catt that the Recreation Ground, and not Port Elizabeth, was his home.

It could so easily have been Kingsholm. A few weeks after his arrival, Catt rang Gloucester to ask if there was any chance of a game. No answer. So he rang Bath, was put through to Gareth Chilcott and told to come down to training.

Were they impressed with him? 'His talent was obvious right from the start,' Chilcott said. 'People at Bath think he's going to be a bigger and better fly-half than England has seen in decades. And I wouldn't disagree with them.'

They think this in Bath because they have seen Catt execute one of the hardest jobs in club rugby: filling the boots of the retired Stuart Barnes. Except Catt doesn't want to fill boots; his game, he says, is different - 'more of a balance between the kicking and the running' - and more effective: 'I will be better than Stuart - somewhere along the line. I know I can do it.'

Arrogant? No, says Chilcott, just quiet, determined, and one of the most popular players in the club. Catt is rising through the England ranks (for which both English-born parents qualify him) and was taken on the summer tour of his homeland. There, his allegiance to England was confirmed when he played in the infamous match against Eastern Province, his old home side, in which Jon Callard sustained his horrific face injury and Tim Rodber was sent off.

Was he surprised by the violence? 'Not at all. If you don't have a fight every Saturday out there, it's not worth playing rugby. They are such aggressive people, very arrogant and very narrow-minded. They will do anything to win. If they don't win they'll drop five people - that's what happened to me. I played five games, they dropped me, and that looked it for my career.' Until he boarded that flight for England.

THE RATING of Mike Burton, the former England prop, as a Welsh national villain soared last week with the revelation that he was the agent behind Scott Quinnell's defection to Wigan. 'Get out Burton]' screamed the headline in Wales on Sunday which described him as 'the leech who is helping drain the lifeblood out of Welsh rugby'. Burton bravely made his defence when invited to appear on Rugby Special that afternoon, though this did little to appease anger in Wales where the regional variation of the programme failed to carry the interview. Nevertheless, the publicity has not harmed him. Since Sunday, he says, he has had some 40 union players - from all four home unions - on the phone asking him to arrange their own passage north. 'Two of them are big names,' Burton said. For the moment, though, union bosses can sleep easy. 'You can forget about most of them,' Burton said, 'and anyway, I haven't got time at the moment to do the work.'

CAN union players play amateur rugby league? Such is the brain-teaser facing Twickenham's tallest minds. Andy Shorthose, lock forward for Mansfield, thought they could and has been suspended ever since his one game for Nottingham City on 4 September. 'Mansfield had no fixture that day, and I got asked to play for Nottingham City because they were short. I asked if they were a professional club and they said no. No one was being paid.' An article in a local paper also stated that union players could play for City without recrimination. 'It was never going to be permanent. They had asked me to play several times when it was a professional club two seasons ago, before they got relegated into the amateur National Alliance.' The British Amateur Rugby League Association says the Alliance is amateur but the Rugby League says City is a professional club. 'I feel very disappointed. Duped,' says Shorthose. The Rugby Union hopes to make a decision this week.

WANT an international cap? Head for Hong Kong. Scotland is out, as a wave of criticism has forced the SRU to U-turn on its decision to allow immigrants to represent the national side after one year's residency. In Hong Kong last week, however, a six months' residency rule was declared, nicely in time for the Asian World Cup qualifying tournament starting on 23 October. Four regulars have thus made way for four Antipodean newcomers. One of them, Roger Patterson, the former Otago No 8, had his passport for Hong Kong entry stamped on 23 April. Six months to the day . . . some method, perhaps, in this madness?