Catt set for tour debut amid propaganda war

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The Independent Online

Mike Catt did not look the picture of health as he retreated from the Lions' training ground in Manly with a small iceberg strapped to his dodgy right calf muscle. Nevertheless, the Bath midfielder will make his first tour appearance at inside centre against Australia A in Gosford today, and if he emerges unscathed, all well and good. The Test No 12 shirt is still a point of issue, and Catt's kicking game ­ not to mention his long passing and his pace off the mark ­ would be a handy option against the Wallabies.

The news that Catt had been spared the disappointment of catching the first flight home came as a mild surprise, given his reticence in yesterday's full "beasting" session. Catt took no part in kicking practice; indeed, he retired early to the sideline, swapped his boots for a pair of trainers and spent 30 minutes or so rehearsing his boomerang technique. However, he was in high good humour during the evening.

"I feel comfortable enough," he said. "When you cannot take an active part on a tour like this, all sorts of negative thoughts go through your head. There is nothing to occupy your mind; you don't even get tired, because you're not involved in anything physical. But I've come through some contact work with no ill effects, and my absence from the kicking session was purely precautionary. I set my sights on being a 2001 Lion and I can't tell you how relieved I am to be pulling on the shirt at last."

Given the condensed nature of the tour, Catt needs to make immediate ground on his midfield rivals to stand a chance of claiming a Test place in Brisbane on Saturday week. Fortunately for him, Phil Waugh's Australia A side will provide precisely the kind of quality work-out he requires. With Nathan Grey, a live Wallaby contender, partnering the versatile Graeme Bond at centre, Catt has landed smack bang in the middle of Serious Street. As Donal Lenihan, the Lions manager, said yesterday: "People always talk in terms of a 'fourth Test' on Lions tours. In my view, this is our fourth Test."

Lenihan was clearly disappointed by the absurd anti-Lions propaganda emanating from the Australian Rugby Union in the wake of the weekend victory over Queensland. Eddie Jones, the next Wallaby coach and the strategist behind the Australia A team, effectively accused the tourists of adopting a fists-and-all approach as a matter of policy ­ and did it on headed ARU notepaper, too. It is an old ploy in these parts. One member of the Lions back-room team hit the nail square on the head when he said: "The Australians plan everything to the last detail ­ yes, even the insults. You have to admit they're good at it."

Hilariously enough, the Wallabies are almost as concerned at the Lions' manner of touchline communication as they are about their alleged penchant for orchestrated violence. During the convincing victories in Townsville and Brisbane, Lawrence Dallaglio donned a state-of-the-art headset and acted as a hi-tech drinks carrier, charged with dispensing tactical instructions from on high as well as isotonic refreshment. Last Saturday, he was about to be given the bum's rush by Stuart Dickinson, the referee, when the Lions management pointed out that they were acting within International Board guidelines. The argument rumbles on.

Today, the off-field nonsense will give way to an on-field rumble of no little significance. The Australian second-string, dominated by Super 12 regulars from New South Wales, are equipped with pace, know-how and a back row of international class: Waugh at open side, David Lyons on the blind side and Jim Williams, the battle-harded ACT Brumbie, at No 8. Dallaglio, shorn of his headset but in full match trim, will encounter some hot opposition. So, too, will his fellow Lions.

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