RUGBY UNION: England pick Catt in new full-back role

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The Independent Online
Mike Catt was yesterday chosen to start a match for England for the first time. Not at outside-half or centre, where he has played for Bath, but at full-back, which by a delicious irony was last his regular position when he was being paid to play for Eastern Province in his native South Africa.

This is a fair old week for Catt, including as it does not only this England selection after two caps off the bench but also Friday's meeting of the Rugby Football Union executive which will decide whether he should he punished for his indiscretion.

Whether the greater indiscretion was to take the money or to talk about it is a good question, but it seems that, since the RFU gladly accepts it has no discretion over other EP players, it would be invidious to single out its new, not-quite-amateur full-back.

"The RFU doesn't do any other than support the manager and I assumed I had carte blanche to go ahead," Jack Rowell said at Twickenham yesterday. "Somehow he got himself into a fix and he has had to live with it for a while. He talked to the president andsecretary some time ago, so I'm hoping the whole thing has been exorcised."

We are reliably informed by the president himself, Dennis Easby, that Rowell is unlikely to be made to alter his team. If he were, one can hardly bear to imagine his incandescent response. The England teams he and others choose are not subject to RFU endorsement.

Since it is Easby, in conjunction with Dudley Wood, the secretary, who has drawn up the Catt report we can take it that the Union does not mean to do anything much. In any case Catt was interviewed only when the International Board told the RFU to do something.

If Rowell did need RFU endorsement for his selection, one or two might have balked at Paul Hull's exclusion to accommodate Catt, who replaced the injured Hull during the first half of England's 60-19 win over Canada last month and embellished an exceptional attacking display with two of England's six tries.

"It's the exceptional performance of Mike Catt in the last game that got him the vote," Rowell said. The bad news for Hull is that the manager ideally sees this team taking England all the way to and through the World Cup in South Africa four months hence.

Hull's fall has been as meteoric as his rise on tour in South Africa last summer. His participation in England's New Year training on Lanzarote was curtailed by Achilles tendon trouble that also kept him out of Bristol's game against Bath on Saturday. But Rowell said he was deemed to be fit, so after four caps he has quite plainly been dropped.

Otherwise the team who started against Canada are undisturbed, leaving Dewi Morris to continue his role reversal as Kyran Bracken's scrum-half deputy and Rowell to hope against hope that a back row consisting of three No8s can function as well in South Africa as in the diametrically different conditions at Lansdowne Road.

As this is the manager's greatest uncertainty, Neil Back can keep some hope alive that England will end up needing a more creative influence in order to maintain the continuity inherent in their new style. Rowell admits as much and is still not wholly convinced about his pack as a whole.

"I'm not one for horses-for-courses, because I don't think you can keep switching your team around," he said. "Neil Back is in the squad; Neil has recently been back to his top form and we have an option there if we need it.

"The pack have a lot to prove but we don't have too many options. If you look at the people coming up behind, we have some very young guns playing for the A team." Back is one of only two capped players - the other is Steve Bates, the captain - who will face an Ireland A side containing eight at Donnybrook on Friday week.

Nor is Rowell yet persuaded that his England have worked out how to combat the disruptive havoc wreaked by such destructive opponents as the Irish and Scots. "They do have problems resisting the jungle that tends to develop," he said. More specifically Rand immediately, Rowell will want his props, Jason Leonard (ankle) and Victor Ubogu (hamstring), to prove their fitness at training on Sunday.

Rowell's requirement that England players excuse themselves from this Saturday's pre-Dublin league programme means Northampton will be without both Martin Bayfield and Tim Rodber at Bath. But because the maximum number of enforced absentees is three Leicester might care to include Dean Richards against Orrell and Bath will be free to choose the new England full-back. At outside-half.

ENGLAND (v Ireland, Dublin, 21 January): M Catt (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), K Bracken (Bristol); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath). Replacements: J Callard, P de Glanville (Bath), D Morris (Orrell), G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe, S Ojomoh (Bath).

ENGLAND A (v Ireland A, Dublin, 20 January): M Mapletoft (Gloucester); D Hopley (Wasps), S Potter (Leicester), N Greenstock (Wasps), J Sleightholme (Bath); P Grayson (Northampton), S Bates (Wasps, capt); R Hardwick (Coventry), M Regan (Bristol), J Mallett (Bath), G Archer (Newcastle Gosforth), S Shaw (Bristol), L Dallaglio (Wasps), A Diprose (Saracens), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: H Thorneycroft (Northampton), J Harris (Leicester), R Kitchin (Harlequins), D Garforth, R Cockerill (Leicester), R Hil l (Saracens).