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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 08:49 GMT
Catt 'not just England stop-gap'
By Mark Barden

London Irish centre Mike Catt.
The experienced Catt is a great communicator
Mike Catt can be more than a short-term solution to England's midfield problems says his boss at London Irish.

England coach Brian Ashton says Catt's elevation to the captaincy against France "is not a long-term thing".

But Exiles' rugby director Brian Smith told BBC Sport: "If they put in a great performance and beat France, there's every reason to keep Catty in the team.

"At any level, rugby is about winning games, and it's very difficult to break up a winning combination."

Catt will be the oldest player to lead England into a Five or Six Nations match since Bristol's Sam Tucker in 1931, and at 35 years and 175 days, will become the 11th oldest back in Test history.

"I think Mike will be an outstanding captain for England and we as a club are absolutely delighted that he's been selected," Smith said.

"It's a great honour for him in what has already been a quite remarkable career."

England have got absolutely nothing to lose, and that's why they could be at their most dangerous

Brian Smith
The World Cup-winner replaces Phil Vickery as skipper after he was ruled out with concussion, and steps in for the injured Andy Farrell at centre.

"People have been asking whether England's midfield is producing all that it could, and Mike has been delivering for us all season," Smith said.

"He's obviously a guy that Brian Ashton has had a lot to do with and has an enormous amount of time and respect for.

"If you're looking for someone who's experienced and is going to play Brian's way, there's no-one who can second-guess him better than Mike."

BBC Sport's James Standley

Smith claimed Catt, who played under Ashton for several seasons at Bath, is still "at the peak of his powers".

"We obviously do our best to take care of him, but Mike is a remarkable athlete. He knows the game so well and is so skilful. His distribution and kicking game are without peer."

Catt's partner in the Exiles' midfield, fly-half Shane Geraghty, makes his first appearance on the England bench on Saturday, with Toby Flood replacing Jonny Wilkinson in the starting XV.

Smith said: "Shane and Mike are a terrific combination and as a pairing I think they would do a wonderful job for England.

Exiles fly-half Shane Geraghty.
Geraghty made the England squad for the first time in January

"But Toby Flood has tasted international rugby at the highest level already (coming on as a replacement in four matches), whereas Shane hasn't.

"I don't think being pitched in against France would be too much for Shane, it's just that Toby is an England player already, he's done nothing wrong and doesn't deserve to be dropped.

"He played very well against us (for Newcastle) last weekend and is a class act. Brian is spoilt for choice - both of his young number 10s are outstanding prospects.

"Toby was the next in line behind Wilkinson, with Shane third choice going into the Six Nations, so it's consistent selection.

"It's a good way to blood young players because there's a safety net for Shane, but I'm sure he'll get his chance somewhere along the line."

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