Andrew leads praise as Catt swaps kicking for coaching

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Mike Catt, revered by English rugby folk for his off-the-bench heroics during the victorious World Cup campaign in Australia in 2003 and a realistic contender for a coaching role when the red-rose army go in search of the title on home soil in 2015, has been moving towards this moment for well over a year. Now, it has just about arrived. When London Irish complete their rather disappointing season against Northampton at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday, the grand old man of the midfield fraternity will finally wind up his playing career.

"London Irish have given me the opportunity to make the transition from playing to coaching and the time is right for me to focus on that role," the 38-year-old South African said yesterday, with a minimum of fuss and bother. Others were more extravagant in their reaction to this long-anticipated statement of intent. Toby Booth, for instance, described Catt as "an inspirational sportsman" who had been "pivotal to the progress made by the club, both in this country and in Europe". The Exiles' head coach was far from alone in waxing lyrical.

Rob Andrew, who played alongside Catt in the 1995 World Cup (when England were comprehensively Jonahed by a chap named Lomu), used the word "legend" in his generous assessment.

"When I retired from playing for England in 1997, I'm not sure what answer I'd have given if I had been asked whether Mike would still be playing in 2007," said the long-serving outside-half, who currently maintains close links with Catt and others in his role as Twickenham's director of elite rugby. "As we know, he picked up a World Cup runners-up medal in that year to go with his winner's medal from 2003. He is a legend of the game, both at club level and internationally, and his vision and coaching expertise are now there for all to see."

Catt and Twickenham were not always on such cosy terms. During the 1990s, he was given a rough ride by paying customers at the home of English rugby, and it was not until he made his remarkable impact on the World Cup quarter-final with Wales in Brisbane that he found a lasting place in the hearts of red-rose supporters. Brought on as a half-time replacement, he helped a struggling Jonny Wilkinson make sense of a tie that was fast becoming a mystery to him and played a crucial role in securing the team's place at the business end of the tournament.

Lavishly praised in London Irish circles for the high standard of his work as an attack coach and his burgeoning track record in helping youngsters take the difficult step from academy to Premiership, he has made 95 appearances for the Exiles since joining from Bath six years ago. He won the last of his 75 caps for England in the 2007 World Cup final against South Africa, partnering Mathew Tait, almost 15 years his junior, in the starting team.

Story of a World Cup winner

Mike Catt

Born 19 September 1971 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

* Joined Bath in 1992, and enjoyed a 12-year career at the Rec, winning the Heineken Cup in 1998. Catt left Bath in 2004 to join London Irish where he was Guinness Premiership player of the season in 2006, at the age of 37.

* Catt has played in two British and Irish Lions tours (1997 in South Africa and 2001 un Australia).

* He has won 75 caps for England, and has played in four successive World Cups (1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007). Catt was a vital part of World Cup-winning side of 2003. His showed his versatility during his international career playing full-back, fly-half, inside-centre and wing. Catt confirmed his retirement from England in 2007.

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