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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 September, 2003, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Catt eyes World Cup glory
By Jonathon Moore
Rugby union editor

Mike Catt
Position: Fly-half/Centre
Age: 31
Int' debut: March 1994 v Wales
Caps: 56
Test points: 128
Few international sportsmen have experienced as many highs and lows as Bath's enigmatic midfield veteran Mike Catt.

The 31-year-old has been plagued by persistent back and hamstring injuries and missed out on both England's Six Nations success and the triumphant tour to the southern hemisphere this summer.

The last time he earned full international colours was almost two years ago against South Africa.

But despite all that, last week's injury to Alex King has prompted coach Clive Woodward to turn back the clocks and call the naturalised Englishman into his World Cup elite.

Catt, who celebrates his 32nd birthday on 17 September, owes his selection to his ability to play at both centre and fly-half at the highest level.

At his best he represents one of England's most creative midfield talents and many will rightly question exactly why England's commander-in-chief left it quite so late to throw his hat into the ring.

Over the past two seasons, Woodward has found answers to all but England's most pressing problem: what to do should Jonny Wilkinson's delicate shoulder finally give way.

King, Dave Walder and Paul Grayson have been given their opportunity to stake their claim.

And while the Saints fly-half has proven he fully deserves the title of Wilkinson's understudy, neither King nor Walder have come close to mirroring the form of a fully fit Catt.

Mike Catt is led off the field on the Lions tour in 2001
The nightmare begins: Catt is led off the field in Australia in 2001
The 56-times capped South African learned his trade inside Jeremy Guscott and outside Stuart Barnes at Bath, after being rejected by Gloucester.

And it is precisely because of his ability to slot into the number 12 jersey that Woodward has included a player outside of his provisional squad of 43.

Woodward first picked Catt at inside centre for his first game in charge back in 1997.

Until that point, Catt had represented England both at wing and full-back, but it took another four years until the fly-half from Port Elizabeth finally proved his critics wrong.

His lack of reliability as a goalkicker, his capacity to sometimes try too hard and even his South African accent have all counted against him as England fans queued up to discuss Catt's shortcomings.

But Woodward has always preferred to concentrate on what Catt can do, rather than what he cannot, and in 2001 the England coach was rewarded with some of the most thrilling contributions ever made by an England player.

His form rightly earned him the Players' Player of the Year award and, with the crowd finally on his side, Catt's career was ready to take-off.

But then the long nightmare began. After initially recovering from a calf injury on the Lions tour to Australia in 2001, he tore his hamstring, which also created a back condition.

Woodward told him the only way he would get into England's World Cup squad was to "take the whole summer off, go away and get into shape".

That Catt has managed to earn the confidence of the medical team is a huge boost for both player and manager.

With England already showing the form necessary to lift the trophy in Sydney, the presence of a player of Catt's unbridled vision could prove a trump card, should injuries take their toll.

Should Mike Catt have made England's World Cup squad?
21551 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

England name World Cup squad
07 Sep 03  |  Internationals


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