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Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 17:24 UK

Jeremy Guscott column

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England and Lions centre

Mike catt celebrates scoring the final try for London Irish in their Guinness Premiership play-off semi-final victory over Harlequins
At 37 World Cup-winner Catt has seen it all before

For some of London Irish's players, Saturday's Guinness Premiership final against Leicester will be the biggest game of their lives.

Fortunately they have Mike Catt still holding his own in the professional game at the age of 37.

The beauty about Catty, who I played with at Bath, is he is still sending out passes to put people through holes in the same way he did when he first arrived at the club in 1992. It is a mark of his quality.

The game has changed so much since that time but if a player is still making brilliant decisions at his age, it just emphasizes that if you have that rugby brain, you have the ability. It doesn't matter how big, small, fast or slow you are.

Catt has always been well regarded by his fellow players but it has taken a while for him to get that respect on a broader level. People who have played with him know his true ability and love it, but sometimes he hasn't had the whole rugby fraternity behind him. Now everybody loves him.

He has always been incredibly fit. As a schoolboy I think he used to do mini-triathlons and that base fitness has stayed with him. London Irish coach Toby Booth says he is at the front of most fitness sessions and that is what drives the rest of the team. If they see a 37-year-old doing that, they know they have to train harder to stay with him!

When he was younger he suffered with hamstring and cramp problems and I thought he might be a 30-40 minute player. But I don't think he's had a really bad injury that kept him out for a long time, and when you get to his age, you know what you can and can't do, so you find that balance.

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Catty will absolutely love it on Saturday. It could be his last game at the top level, but in some ways it can be dangerous thinking you have got nothing to lose.

It is a huge game for Irish. They reached the Heineken Cup semi-finals last year and have qualified for Europe again this year, but to win on Saturday would be a breakthrough achievement and give them something tangible for their efforts.

Picking up a trophy would mean they have arrived in the big time. They are on the up, and I just hope their celebrations after the semi-final win over Harlequins doesn't mean that was their final.

It is going to take a monumental effort to stop Leicester.

I was amazed by the Tigers' semi-final win over Bath last week. How many more performances like that can they produce? I was convinced that Bath, who'd had time off to refresh themselves, were going to win but it wasn't a case of my heart ruling my head.

Leicester looked battered after that extra-time Heineken Cup semi-final shoot-out against Cardiff Blues, and I just thought Bath would "out-Leicester" Leicester. But the Tigers won playing at 80%, which shows how poor Bath were, but also that Leicester still have energy left in the tank.

Tom Croft soars to take a line-out for Leicester
Tom Croft's athleticism is such he could play anywhere in the back five of the scrum

They are going to need it against Irish, who play a very unforgiving game. Irish are pretty straightforward, there is a lot of kicking in their game, and they are annoying to play against with someone like Steffon Armitage in your face all day long.

They will also attack you from their own goal line, and with backs like Seilala Mapusua, Delon Armitage and Sailosi Tagicakibau, Irish can score from 80m out.

But Richard Cockerill has obviously struck a chord with this Leicester squad since taking over as head coach. They must have made an agreement where he's said: 'I won't smash you in training as long as you deliver a performance on Saturday'.

Leicester's commitment and aggression at the breakdown is the difference between them and most teams. You have to buy into pain and it takes a while to get your head round it.

You just have to believe you are going to inflict more on the opposition than you are going to receive, and that is something Leicester as a squad have clearly bought into.

You look at someone like Tom Croft, who is excelling in a position that you don't think suits them, but that is the evolution of the game. He is playing in the second row at the moment but his athleticism is such he could play anywhere in the back five of the scrum.

In some ways he would be a bigger guarantee now for the Lions, if he is called up, than when the squad was announced because his form in recent weeks has been staggering.

And then there are players like Sam Vesty. He has always been a good club player, but I don't think he was ever going to make it big time. His performances have been, well, cheese on bread. The same goes for his half-back partner, Julien Dupuy.

Cockerill has definitely got them firing, and if they win the Premiership and Heineken Cup double, given the kind of matches they have had at the back end of the season, it will be well deserved.

Jeremy Guscott was talking to BBC Sport's Bryn Palmer.



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see also
Leicester v London Irish (Sat)
14 May 09 |  English
Catt to enjoy Twickenham finale
14 May 09 |  London Irish
Final is Irish pinnacle - Danaher
13 May 09 |  London Irish
Irish can overcome Tigers - Hewat
11 May 09 |  London Irish
Harlequins 0-17 London Irish
09 May 09 |  English
Leicester 24-10 Bath
09 May 09 |  English
Jeremy Guscott column
08 May 09 |  English
Jeremy Guscott column
05 May 09 |  Rugby Union


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