Rugby Union: Woodward gets his kicks at last

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The Independent Online
FINALLY Clive Woodward's judgement was vindicated. In the absence of Paul Grayson, the England coach nominated scrum-half Matt Dawson as goal kicker which could have been a bit like asking David Batty to take a penalty.

At Northampton, Dawson's club, Grayson takes the kicks. Doubtless Dawson took a few tips from his partner because it seems unlikely he would learn the finer points of the art from Mike Catt.

Last week, of course, Catt spilt the cream, missing a relatively easy conversion which would have given England victory over Australia. In trusting Dawson with the job, Woodward did not exactly give Catt a vote of confidence. "It will give him one less thing to worry about," Woodward said by way of explanation.

It was a huge gamble and it paid off. A draw would have been an unsatisfactory result for all concerned and in the end the status quo was upset by Dawson's goal kicking. His first penalty was from almost in front of the post but with the score at 7-7, it was not as straightforward as it looked.

Dawson kept his nerve to put England in front for the first time midway through the second half. Five minutes later he landed another, this one far more difficult.

Earlier Dawson had missed a bit of a sitter and Percy Montgomery, the Springboks full-back, knew how he felt. From no more than 20 yards yards Montgomery missed a penalty that would have reduced the deficit to three points but throughout the game the world champions, whenever they were awarded a penalty, seemed to be in two minds as to whether to kick for goal or not. Their indecision was not only final but fatal.

Woodward said that England were now looking forward not to the World Cup but the Five Nations' Championship which starts in February. Yesterday's victory was fashioned by the all-enveloping power and resilience of the English forwards. Pretty it was not but the end justified the means.

The debate as to whether Catt is an international stand-off continues, but he would never get maximum points for artistic merit. At times he is a liability.

South Africa's try in the seventh minute stemmed originally from Catt missing touch with his left foot. However, shortly afterwards, in a well rehearsed move, he put up a perfectly weighted high ball to the left wing. It was a 50/50 call between Dan Luger and Stefan Terblanche and the Harlequins wing did brilliantly in taking possession (Terblanche went for the tackle rather than the ball) and off loading to the overlapping Jeremy Guscott. "I didn't know he was there," Luger said, "until I heard him call as I spun around."

Catt's first instinct is to kick and when that instinct betrays him he is not sure what to do. Nor does he always give the impression of being a thinking man's stand-off. Fielding a stray kick inside his own 22 early in the second half, after once again failing to find touch, he called a mark and then proceeded to pass to the unfortunate Nick Beal. Beal did a couple of good things but generally had a nightmare. On this occasion, Beal fluffed his touch finder. It was the last thing the young full-back needed and Catt should never have passed to him in the first place.

When Catt went off for a blood injury he returned a few minutes later wearing a jersey with no number which might have been symbolic for a man described as a utility player. He has won caps at full back and on the wing and some observers think his best position is at centre.

Catt, who was born in South Africa, survived yesterday's ordeal and helped to create England's solitary try. He and Dawson are not the most dazzling half back combination in the world but they enjoy tackling, they relish the physical conflict and they are always in the opposition's faces.

They are bloody awkward customers and as such are ideally suited to England's limited game plan.

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