Catt asked to show Hodgson the ropes

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The Independent Online

Jack Rowell, never short of a cutting one-liner when the situation demanded it, had a pet saying during his long and unprecedentedly successful spell as head coach at the Recreation Ground. "Good enough for England," he would sneer if one of the international glitterati committed the heinous crime of fumbling a pass in training, "but not good enough for Bath." The boot is on the other foot these days, as Mike Catt has spent last few months discovering.

Jack Rowell, never short of a cutting one-liner when the situation demanded it, had a pet saying during his long and unprecedentedly successful spell as head coach at the Recreation Ground. "Good enough for England," he would sneer if one of the international glitterati committed the heinous crime of fumbling a pass in training, "but not good enough for Bath." The boot is on the other foot these days, as Mike Catt has spent last few months discovering.

Catt spent a dozen years at, and played the best part of 300 matches for, the West Country club, only to find himself surplus to requirements when his contract expired in May. He attempted to negotiate a fresh agreement for himself, but was fobbed off with an offer bordering on the derisory. So he swallowed hard and signed a two-year deal with London Irish - a deal that seemed good business then and looks even better now that Clive Woodward has breathed new life into the centre's Test career by naming him in England's starting line-up for the first of two meetings with the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday.

While Bath fell out of love with Catt because they felt his fitness was suspect, Woodward has repeatedly extended the hand of friendship to the 32-year-old midfielder in recent times. Having picked him from nowhere for the World Cup squad last year and been rewarded with a match-turning, campaign-saving performance against Wales in a tight quarter-final in Brisbane, he then used him off the bench in two Six Nations' Championship matches in March. Yesterday, he went a significant step further by pairing him with his old Bath mucker, Mike Tindall.

It was not the easiest call Woodward has made, by a long chalk. Stuart Abbott, of Wasps, has been in prime nick of late - try naming a Wasp who is not in the form of his life - and might reasonably have expected to fill the gap left by Will Greenwood, the World Cup-winning Harlequin overlooked by the England selectors for this tour after a series of flat performances at club level. Abbott is quicker and more elusive than Catt; what is more, he has almost seven years on his fellow South African ex-pat. But he has only a fraction of Catt's experience and none of his kicking game. Those very pertinent facts tipped the balance towards the older man.

Five years ago, Catt nursed a fresh-faced young whippersnapper by the name of Wilkinson through his early international ordeals. This weekend, he will be expected to guide Charlie Hodgson, of Sale, through the physical and mental thicket of a meeting with the silver-ferned brigade. Hodgson, short of rugby but not quite as short as Bath's Olly Barkley, won the featherweight bout for the No 10 shirt and will start a game against one of the southern hemisphere's traditional élite for the first time. As a test of nerve, this will be as extreme as it gets.

Hodgson is not the most dependable defensive player in the world, or even in his own house; indeed, Sale habitually evacuate him to the relative safety of the full-back position on opposition ball. There will be no hiding place for him here, however. "We expect Charlie to defend in the line," confirmed Phil Larder, the assistant coach with special responsibility for barricade construction, "and to defend very well." A certain Carlos Spencer will fancy himself to be the judge of that.

In all, there are seven changes, one of them positional, to the side that lost to France in Paris two and a half months ago. Josh Lewsey moves from wing to full-back in the absence of Jason Robinson, thereby creating a vacancy for the exciting James Simpson-Daniel, while Julian White and Simon Shaw replace the injured Phil Vickery and the out-of-favour Ben Kay at tight-head prop and lock respectively.

In the back row, Chris Jones plays on the blind-side flank ahead of the unfortunate Joe Worsley, largely for reasons of line-out security. It now seems that Shaw's presence in the engine-room guarantees Jones a run. If and when Steve Borthwick, a better line-out operator than Shaw, gets the nod, Worsley will be in the hunt for a starting place.

England believe they have the weaponry to prosper at the line-out, and are absolutely certain that the scrums are there to be dominated. The All Blacks selectors have performed radical surgery - the equivalent of simultaneous heart and lung transplants - on their pack, introducing Carl Hayman, Jono Gibbes and Xavier Rush to the mix at the expense of Greg Somerville, Reuben Thorne and Jerry Collins. In many respects, they seem stronger for it; Gibbes and Rush, in particular, are fiercely competitive, intelligent forwards capable of stamping some personality on proceedings. But England always back themselves in the tight exchanges, assuming they are permitted to flex some muscle.

Woodward will discuss the scrummage with Jonathan Kaplan, the South African referee, in an effort to establish a few ground rules. "There again, I spoke to Andre Watson before the World Cup final, and look what happened there," said the coach with a sigh. Watson did his level best to whistle England into oblivion that night. If anything remotely similar happens at Carisbrook this weekend, there will be hell to pay.

ENGLAND: J Lewsey (Wasps); J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), M Tindall (Bath), M Catt (London Irish), B Cohen (Northampton); C Hodgson (Sale Sharks), M Dawson (Northampton); T Woodman (Sale Sharks), S Thompson (Northampton), J White (Leicester), S Shaw (Wasps), D Grewcock (Bath), C Jones (Sale Sharks), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt). Replacements: M Regan (Leeds), M Stevens (Bath), S Borthwick (Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), A Gomarsall (Gloucester), S Abbott (Wasps), T Voyce (Wasps).

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