Catt on trail of extra life

Bath 16 Sale 12
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The Independent Online

Wanted: A new home for an award-winning pedigree feline who remains agile and alert despite frequent visits to the vet. Mike Catt, who seems to have been occupying a place at Bath longer than the Romans, has not, as yet, had his contract renewed. Others have, which might suggest that Catt no longer has a reservation at the hearth.

Wanted: A new home for an award-winning pedigree feline who remains agile and alert despite frequent visits to the vet. Mike Catt, who seems to have been occupying a place at Bath longer than the Romans, has not, as yet, had his contract renewed. Others have, which might suggest that Catt no longer has a reservation at the hearth.

Yesterday, Catt, an England World Cup winner, made only his fourth appearance of the season for his club - it works out at about £35,000 a go - and he was both perpetrator and instigator, conceding a try and making one. The thing is, Bath have been doing rather well without him. The West Country club, who this time last year had their heads just above the waters of relegation, increased their lead at the top of the Zurich Premiership and in the process ensured that next season they will be playing in the Heineken Cup.

Catt, of course, has been invaluable at the Rec as a utility player, a man who has appeared everywhere from stand-off to full-back. Yesterday, with Iain Balshaw injured, he wore No 15. With Olly Barkley and Chris Malone, Bath thought they had enough cover at No 10 but yesterday's events considerably strengthened the hand of Catt's agent.

Barkley, who last week signed a new contract, was in the wars and a heavy knock to the head in the 60th minute had him escorted from the pitch by the medics. His England colleague Mike Tindall was also forced to leave the field and by that stage Bath's options were so limited they had to send on a flanker, James Scaysbrook, moving Michael Lipman from the back row to the left wing.

Catt, troubled by the recurrence of a hamstring twinge, had a clearance kick charged down in the 15th minute by Charlie Hodgson, who was making yet another comeback. Hodgson, whose career has been dogged by leg injuries, gathered the ball to score in the left-hand corner.

Bath, who had led through a Barkley penalty in the second minute, regained a lead they were never to lose with a tremendous try midway through the first half. It all stemmed from Sale, not for the first time, losing their own line-out throw and after a move covering almost 70 yards and involving a dozen pairs of hands, Barkley and Catt finally sent No 8 Isaac Feaunati over in the right hand corner.

Sale, who have lost a number of players to Saracens, have a dangerous three-quarter line which includes not only Jason Robinson but Mark Cueto and Steve Hanley. But they are semi-redundant if their forwards can't guarantee primary possession. Philippe Saint-André, who recently took over as director of rugby, will probably beef up his pack by doing what he did at Gloucester, recruiting seasoned French professionals.

A strong wind made goal kicking difficult and Hodgson, from close range, missed with a penalty that would have put Sale level on the stroke of half time. Sale were warming to their task and had Bath pinned inside their own 22 when Catt - no exaggeration about his agility - somehow managed to break from defence, beating any number of would- be tacklers to launch a devastating counterattack. Lipman, as always, was in support and after contributions from Wylie Human and Tindall, the Australian-raised flanker reappeared to crash over not only the Sale line but Robinson too.

Before his departure Barkley missed with what looked like a relatively easy kick at goal and the result was still in the balance when Chris Mayor made a searing break. It came to nothing for after the Mayor show the same player was guilty of a knock-on.

After Hodgson had failed with another penalty, Malone, Barkley's deputy, landed a penalty, taking advantage of the kick being moved 10 yards closer to the posts after Phil Davies had verbally assaulted the referee, Ashley Rowden.

It seemed Sale would not have the consolation of a bonus point, but in the 87th minute Robinson did what only Robinson can do, producing an electrifying burst that took him to within a yard of the Bath line, where the prop Andrew Sheridan burrowed over. Hodgson's conversion reduced the gap to four points.

Sale, who are in the final of the Powergen Cup, may have to enter the wild-card tournament to earn a place in the Heineken Cup. The top four Premiership sides who have not automatically qualified for Europe compete in that side show, the winners filling the last English slot. England's allocation of six places may increase to seven, but Wales' ration is cut from five to four, which means that Cardiff are in danger of being demoted to the Parker Pen Challenge Cup. Ireland's representation remains at three, so if Connacht win the Challenge Cup, and with it a Heineken Cup place, the casualty would be Ulster, winners of the Celtic Cup and Celtic League leaders. Bath have no such worries.

Bath 16 Sale 12
Tries: Feaunati, Lipman; Tries: Hodgson, Sheridan
Pens: Barkley, Malone; Con: Hodgson

Half-time: 8-5 Attendance: 9,980

Bath: M Catt; A Crockett, M Tindall (J Scaysbrook, 75), K Maggs, S Danielli (W Human, 31); O Barkley (C Malone, 60), M Wood (H Martens, 80); D Flatman, L Mears (R Hawkins, 80), D Bell (M Stevens, 53), S Borthwick (capt), R Fidler, A Beattie (S Gray, 82), I Feaunati, M Lipman.

Sale: J Robinson; M Cueto, C Mayor, J Baxendell, S Hanley; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (N Walshe, 55); A Sheridan, A Titterrell (M Cairns, 48), B Stewart (S Turner, 59), J White, I Fullarton (C Day, 79), P Anglesea (capt; D Schofield, 48), P Davies, H Perrett.

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).

MAN OF MATCH

Michael Lipman Began the match at No 7, where he scored Bath's first try, and ended up on the left wing, where he was equally strong.

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