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Catt eager to grab England chance

Mike Catt had tentative plans to spend the next year circum- navigating the rugby globe, picking up fresh coaching ideas before embarking on the next stage of his career.

If he plays his cards right in his native South Africa next month, the World Cup-winning centre may spend the next four years travelling on the Twickenham budget.

"This is a massive opportunity," England's interim backs coach said yesterday in Leeds, where he was putting local schoolboys through their paces before turning his attention to players in the national squad, some of whom played like schoolboys -- and behaved like them, too -- at last year's global gathering in New Zealand, but have since grown up sufficiently to retrieve their reputations from the gutter.

"If I looked too deeply into the possibilities ahead of me, I'd probably be blinded by them. All I know is that chances like this don't come along often."

Catt has signed a short-term deal to join head coach Stuart Lancaster, and forwards coach Graham Rowntree on the England back-room staff for the forthcoming three-Test series against the Springboks, which begins in Durban on 9 June.

To all intents and purposes, he and Lancaster are still strangers to each other -- the two men had barely met prior to the opening of job discussions late last month -- but Catt is already convinced he can work productively alongside the new boss.

"I'll need to get to know Stuart a lot better," he acknowledged, "but he's a very decisive character and he has a clear vision of where he wants the England team to go. We saw in the Six Nations that he has been successful in creating the right culture.

"When you think that Clive Woodward took two or three years to move towards that, you have to say that Stuart, Graham and Andy Farrell did an amazing job in making so much progress in the space of a few weeks."

Had Farrell done what everyone expected him to do and committed himself to the England cause, Lancaster would not have thought of bringing Catt on board.

Instead, Farrell opted to stay with Saracens -- partly out of loyalty to the club that stuck by him through an injury-riddled playing career and then set him on a new career path as a coach; partly because he considered himself too underboiled as a tactician and strategist to throw all his eggs into the international basket. That decision opened the Catt-flap, so to speak.

Catt decided back in February that he would end his productive association with London Irish at the end of the season -- this weekend's Premiership finale with Gloucester will mark his departure -- and it seemed likely at one stage that he would return to Bath, the club he joined on arriving in this country from Port Elizabeth a little over two decades ago.

When that apparent opening suddenly closed, there was no immediate Plan B.

Victory over the Boks would put Catt in a very strong position, just as the unexpected runners-up finish in the Six Nations put Lancaster ahead of the field in the race for the head coach's job. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent