Lions Legend: Mike Catt

Mike Catt may have only played seven times for the Lions across two tours but the World Cup winning utility back has experienced almost every emotion with the best of the four Home Unions. [more]

Lions Legend: Mike Catt

Mike Catt may have only played seven times for the Lions across two tours but the World Cup winning utility back has experienced almost every emotion with the best of the four Home Unions.

The Port Elizabeth-born playmaker dreamed of playing for the Springboks throughout his sport-fuelled youth, but he would instead achieve one of his career highlights playing not for but against the green and gold of South Africa.

Having appeared in a World Cup and won a Grand Slam with England in his three-year international career prior to the 1997 Lions tour, Catt admitted to being devastated to miss out on a place in Sir Ian McGeechan's original squad to tour his homeland.

He would eventually win a late call up after injury to Paul Grayson, meaning he would be presented with the ultimate honour of representing Britain and Ireland against the country in which he was born and raised.

After transferring from England's summer tour of Argentina, Catt was named as an unused replacement for the match-winning second Test against the Boks, before starting the third and final rubber a week later.

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Catt's success story continued upon his return to domestic rugby as he became a Heineken Cup winner with Bath a year after the Lions' 2-1 series win in South Africa.

Catt went on to win a further 30 England caps in between the 1997 and 2001 Lions tours, although his international career was not without its detractors. The mercurial playmaker experienced the indignity of being roundly booed and jeered by large sections of the Twickenham crowd when his goal kicking, or simply England's fortunes, went array. But the former Eastern Province representative showed incredible mental strength to keep bouncing back whenever the boo boys looked to bring his international involvement to an end.

Mike Catt won 75 caps for England during a 13-year international career

One of Catt's rewards was a place in the 2001 Lions squad to tour Australia – a squad that was in quietly confident mood of turning over the world champion Wallabies in their own backyard.

Unlike four years earlier, 2001 saw Catt named in the original Lions touring party, rather than facing an anxious wait for a late call up. Unfortunately for the then 29-year-old, that adventure followed a distinctively different pattern to his experiences in 1997.

After relishing the joy of earning selection as a first-choice player, Catt was widely tipped to win a starting Test spot when the Lions began their three-match series. However, despite his best efforts, it wasn't to be.

Catt failed to make the grade in Australia – because of fitness as opposed to form, or, more accurately, a lack of it. Catt travelled Down Under with a back injury that almost prevented him from boarding the plane. He hoped it would clear in time for the opening game or at least to give him an appearance or two prior to the Test series, but it didn't.

Instead he missed the opening three games of the tour and then lasted just 40 minutes against Australia A in the week leading up to the first Test. Catt's tour was over after just one half of rugby. So too was his Lions career.

Catt returned to action for England in November of 2001 but then spent exactly two years in the rugby wilderness. Not wanted by a successful England, Catt's international career appeared to be coming to as disappointing an end as his second Lions adventure.

Again, Catt fought back. Just as he had silenced the jeering brigade earlier in his England days, he performed so well at domestic level that Sir Clive Woodward ended his international exile by naming him in his 2003 World Cup squad.

Catt made the most of his unexpected opportunity, featuring in the pool matches against South Africa, Samoa and Uruguay, before turning the quarter-final against Wales on its head with a commanding display as a second-half replacement in Brisbane. Whereas he left Australia disheartened and empty handed with the Lions in 2001, Catt flew home in 2003 as World Cup winner and a far more contented individual.

A second international exile between 2004 and 2006 saw Catt miss out on selection for the 2005 Lions tour but he returned to England colours in time to be an important member of yet another incredible World Cup adventure.

Catt's fourth World Cup in a row brought another final appearance and, although England finished runners up to South Africa in Paris, Catt's international career had finished on the biggest stage of all, rather than petering out without so much as a flicker as it had so often threatened to do.

Catt retired from the playing side of the sport in 2010 but continues to be involved in the professional game and is currently a coach for Aviva Premiership outfit London Irish.

Catt now has an influential coaching role with London Irish

Mike Catt factfile

Date of birth: September 17 1971
Clubs: Bath, London Irish
International caps: England 75
Height: 5ft 11in (1.8m)
Weight: 13 stone 9lbs (87kg)

Catt's Lions lowdown

Lions debut: Versus Golden Lions, June 11, 1997
Lions Tests: 1 (3rd Test in 1997)
Lions non-Test appearances: 6
Total Lions appearances: 7 (six in 1997 and one in 2001)
Lions points: 13 (two tries and one pen)
Final Lions appearance: Versus Australia A, Gosford, June 19, 2001

On missing out first time around

"It had been an awful season for me from an international perspective, yet I had emerged feeling a million dollars. It was a feeling that lasted three weeks until the squad for the Lions tour to South Africa was named and I wasn't in it.

"I had taken for granted that I would be touring and when I missed out it hit me like a thunderbolt. Naas Botha, a hero of my childhood, said that I was the player he was most surprised to see the Lions ignore.

"The memory of that rejection has stayed with me to this day. I was gutted, seriously upset."

On a precious call up

"Snubbed by the Lions, I had gone to Argentina with England and we had had the most fantastic trip, one of the best I have ever been on. All eyes were on the Lions, which allowed me to relax.

"I don't know why, but I never stopped believing that I would join the Lions tour at some point and so I flew to Buenos Aires in a really positive frame of mind. Knowing how incredibly physical South African rugby is, I felt sure the Lions were going to need some reinforcements.

"What I needed to be, though, was in form, so that and when and SOS went out it would come my way. I made sure I hit the ground running, scoring 18 points in the first game against Cordoba, including a chip and gather try which I was especially pleased with. I added another in the 50-point thrashing of Argentina's second string and then had a blinder, if I say it myself, in the first Test, scoring a try and landing seven kicks as England thrashed the Pumas 46-20.

"That very day, on another continent, Paul Grayson crashed out of the Lions tour. The phone call that (England coach) Jack Rowell had dreaded, but I had secretly longed for, followed before the night was out.

"Jack was desperate for me to stay. 'You can go after the Test match on Saturday," he told me. I replied, 'Look, Jack, I'm sorry, but I can't do that. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.'

On an auspicious start

"While England without us (Catt and Nigel Redman – another England tourist called up by the Lions) were being hammered 33-13, neither Nigel or I featured in the Lions defeat against Northern Transvaal.

"Instead I had to wait until the following midweek to start, in the game at Ellis Park against Gauteng Lions which will forever be remembered for John Bentley's superb 70-metre scoring run.

"Thank God for that, too. Otherwise we would have lost and I would have been nailed back on the cross for missing five kicks out of six. Bentley dug me out of a hole that day."

On family pride

"I was in the squad for the second Test, we would win that and I would get to start at fly-half in the third dead rubber in Johannesburg. Dad would fly up from Port Elizabeth for the match and seeing him close to tears with pride is a memory I will always cherish."

Catt played against his homeland in the third Test for the Lions in 1997

On disappointment in Australia

"I didn't even have the consolation of adding to the Test cap I won on the 1197 tour as my back went before we left Heathrow and then I tore a calf muscle.

"In my heart of hearts I never thought I'd be right, despite persuading Lions coach Graham Henry after a week of watching the lads train at Aldershot that my back would come good. I gave it my best shot and I don't regret it.

"Maybe I was selfish for denying someone else a chance but I would not have forgiven myself had I not tried. I was playing so well for England and the thought of playing in between Brian O'Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson in a Lions backline was just mindblowing.

"I was convinced the 2001 Lions were an even stronger squad than their 1997 predecessors and I was so desperate to be a part of it that every morning I woke up at six o'clock and lay in a hot bath for an hour to try and loosen up.

"It didn't work. I sat out the first three games and was getting to the stage where I almost felt embarrassed to be there. Graham (Henry) gave me one last chance to prove myself in the game against Australia A at Gosford. I had not even been able to train that day. And although I though, right, come on, man. Enough of being a gooseberry, I knew I was chasing a lost cause. I didn't get to half-time before breaking down."

On what happened next

"My tour was over and I went on a road trip with Dan Luger and Phil Greening, who had also been forced off tour by injury. Every time we stopped we tossed a coin to determine whether we'd stay or move on. We drank and we partied.

"Lawrence Dallaglio was then forced off tour by injury and he joined us. Of course we were gutted to miss out with the Lions, but it was the end of a hard season so we let our hair down."

On where it went wrong for Graham Henry's 2001 Lions

"That tour will go down as a massive missed opportunity. And it started from day one. Because that was when we started beasting each other on the training field. Team manager Donal Lenihan had promised us a fun time. In '97 we assembled as a tour party, went out for a serious drink, got to know each other and then went about winning the series. In 2001, there was none of that. It was just a grind.

"We kept saying to Andy Robinson, who was forwards coach for both England and the Lions, 'Robbo, you've got to get them to let us chill out sometimes. It's just too intense.' But nothing changed. And so the guys took matters into their own hands.

"I honestly believe that if those first few weeks had been a little bit lighter and a little bit more enjoyable, we would have won that series."

(Quotes taken from Landing on my Feet by Mike Catt and Alex Spink.)

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