Catt can deliver hell of a chance

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The Independent Online

Over at the Swiss Grand Hotel on Bondi the French have been listening to a lot of music by Cat Stevens. They have also been reading what Jonny Wilkinson has been saying about Mike Catt, the 32-year-old whose international career has been resurrected to dig England and the young stand-off out of another fine mess.

"Catty is a great talker and thinker,'' Wilkinson said. "He is very strong-minded in what he wants and he makes it happen by the way he bosses people around. He played brilliantly in the quarter-final against Wales. He gives me time to sit back and have a little bit of a look and the way the game went last Sunday there were certainly times when I needed that. He clearly played a large part in rescuing England.''

This is an extraordinary state of affairs. But for a knee injury to Alex King, sustained against Wales in Cardiff a few months ago, Catt would not have had, well, a cat in hell's chance of making England's World Cup squad. He had been out of contention for two years and Clive Woodward was not impressed with the player's fitness. All that, of course, has changed.

"Catty has come along very well in the last couple of games,'' Woodward said. "We also want to get some width in our game, which we had always been doing until this World Cup. I see no gamble at all. You saw that he played outstandingly in the second half against Wales. It's the correct balance to beat France.

"Jonny was under a lot of pressure throughout the game so it became clear to me that we needed someone to play alongside him who was a genuine kicker. As far as a game plan, there was nothing to be said. I just told Catty to get on and play his game and he did it very, very well and took a lot of pressure off Wilkinson in the second half.''

Inevitably, the South African-born Catt was reminded of his last World Cup semi-final appearance at Newlands in Cape Town in 1995. Then a young full-back, Catt was England's last line of defence. Jonah Lomu scored four tries, one of them when he smashed through Catt's attempted tackle.

"If anything,'' Catt said, "what happened in Cape Town got me to the top of the tree. You had the likes of Tim Rodber and Martin Johnson trying to tackle Jonah and they were 18 stone and I was only 13 stone so I probably didn't have a chance anyway.''

So the unfortunate Mike Tindall of Bath makes way for his club-mate. "The side have done exceptionally well in the past two years and maybe there's a bit of staleness in there,'' Catt said. "Perhaps I can bring some freshness and a bit of perspective into the game.

"Hopefully my presence will mean that Jonny can roam the field a bit more and I can take some heat off him when it comes to a kicking game. I'll fit in quite nicely.''

At inside-centre Catt will partner Will Greenwood and the return from a hamstring injury of Josh Lewsey at full-back means that Jason Robinson, who created England's only try against Wales, moves back to the wing.

Catt said he had changed his perspective, especially since his 18-month-old daughter Evie underwent open-heart surgery when she was only three weeks old. "I've got a completely different outlook on the game since the birth of my daughter,'' he said. "There are more important things in life than rugby. I've got nothing to lose and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. Long may it continue.''

Perhaps the most important aspect of Catt's inclusion is the effect it seems to have had on Wilkinson. "In the case of this team we've got good performances under our belts going back several years,'' Wilkinson said, "and although we haven't been overly impressed by the way we have played we know that it's in the bank. It's all about doing the right things to try to bring it out. We know we need to be at our best against France and I don't think it's far away.

"It's little things here and there we need. People tuning in to each other, understanding what other people are thinking and what others want from the game... the sort of thing that seems to come naturally to Catty and me.''

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