London Irish 30 Saracens 18: Catt in line for new life with England

Exiles rest star centre but carry his good work into the play-offs
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The Independent Online

Pensioners, pack away your protest placards; politicians, repeal your laws against ageism. Mike Catt is in line for an England recall. The London Irish playmaker was rested yesterday to save him for the knockout finish to his club's best league season, but he has been asked by Andy Robinson to tour Australia this summer, with a view to playing in a fourth World Cup at the age of 36.

Catt never formally retired from international rugby but has not played for England for two years since winning his 66th cap in a 51-15 thrashing by Australia in Brisbane. Ironically it was Robinson who dropped Catt for the 2004 autumn internationals, immediately after taking over from Sir Clive Woodward as England head coach.

Now, in the face of wide-spread accusations of a lack of creativity, Robinson is believed to have asked Catt whether his legs can hold out for another 18 months. If the answer is in the affirmative - and Catt, who turns 35 in September, will give due consideration to the impact of the decision on his young family - it will add a heartening dash of experience to an otherwise very raw England back line for the June Tests against the Wallabies in Sydney and Melbourne. A squad is likely to be named in the next week or so, minus a clutch of experienced players either resting or injured. Significantly, it might also feature Brian Ashton - a long-time admirer of Catt's - as backs coach.

If Catt makes it to France he will equal the record of Leicester's hooker Dorian West, who was 36 in Australia in 2003. No supporter at what they like to call the Madstad would think it at all crazy. Principally at inside centre, Catt has broadened the Exiles' horizons with a powerful ally in the director of rugby, Brian Smith. The result has been third in the Premiership as the top try-scorers with 54.

Smith began a touchline ban yesterday which will endure for next Sunday's semi-final away to Leicester, and the European Challenge Cup final against Gloucester a week later. Easily his most productive move of the week, therefore, was to get Catt to sign a year's contract extension. In so doing, Catt rejected an offer from his old club Bath to be player/backs coach next season. "We'd certainly support Catt returning for England," said Smith, an Australian.

By contrast, Saracens' Kyran Bracken is letting Old Father Time have his way. At 34, the former England scrum-half went into retirement feistily, remonstrating with Kieron Dawson, who is leaving Irish for Ulster, for what looked like an illegally diverted put-in to a scrum.

Without Catt to orchestrate Irish's back three, the home side fed on turnovers and interceptions to notch up two tries to Delon Armitage and one to Topsy Ojo in the first half.

Ojo's second, late on, came from a pass thrown by Thomas Castaignède, who otherwise was an inspiration for Saracens. The Frenchman was justifiably angry with the referee after 28 minutes when he was prevented from reaching his own chip by a blatant tug on the jersey from Juan Manuel Leguizamon. The Argentinian No 8 went to the sin bin but there ought also to have been a penalty try.

At that point Saracens were leading 13-8 - having been 10-0 up with a try by Dan Harris and Glen Jackson's conversion and penalty - and very soon after they conceded a sloppy try to Armitage. On the other hand, Saracens could have done more to capitalise on Cobus Visagie's strong scrummaging.

Castaignède scored a 42nd-minute try but Barry Everitt's penalty and Ojo's second try closed out the match, after which Saracens confirmed that the RFU chief executive, Francis Baron, had inquired over the availability of their head coach, Mike Ford, to take on England's defence.

London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, S Geraghty, D Fea'unati (G Tiesi, 61), S Tagickibau; R Flutey (B Everitt, 40), B Willis; M Collins (N Hatley, 28), R Russell (D Paice, 50), R Skuse, B Casey (capt; K Roche, 60), N Kennedy, D Danaher, J M Leguizamon (P Murphy, 18-24, 52), K Dawson.

Saracens: T Castaignède; T Vaikona (R Haughton, 64), K Sorrell, D Harris (A Powell, 66), D Scarbrough; G Jackson, K Bracken (M Rauluni, 50); K Yates (N Lloyd, 48), S Byrne (M Cairns, 50), C Visagie (B Broster, 70), S Raiwalui, T Ryder, K Chesney, H Vyvyan (capt), B Russell (D Seymour, 60).

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).

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