Rugby: England's sweet bird of youth take flight

12th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, March 12, 2007 (AFP) - Stand-in England skipper Mike Catt's legs may be old, but his leadership in a stunning 26-18 victory over Six Nations favourites France provided inspiration and hope to the team's hungy young breed of lions.

LONDON, March 12, 2007 (AFP) - Stand-in England skipper Mike Catt's legs may be old, but his leadership in a stunning 26-18 victory over Six Nations favourites France provided inspiration and hope to the team's hungy young breed of lions.

England's victory at Twickenham on Sunday was followed by plenty of praise for South-African born Catt, who was filling in for injured captain Phil Vickery.

Nevertheless, it was the outstanding displays of some budding England youngsters that has left the biggest impression on a nation desperate to be ready when the call to arms comes at the World Cup in France this autumn.

The man who helped seal England's World Cup victory four years ago, Jonny Wilkinson, was conspicuous by his absence - until his 21-year-old Newcastle team-mate Toby Flood stepped up to Wilkinson's usual role with aplomb, scoring 16 points including a try set-up by Catt.

And if the French thought that 20-year-old Shane Geraghty would be easier fodder once he replaced Flood for his international debut they were wrong.

The London Irish tyro has benefited enormously from playing alongside Catt in the Premiership and gave the visitors a lesson in flair by picking the ball up inside his half, easily evading the hapless Dimitri Yachvili's tackle and running it back deep inside the French 22.

From there, rather than opting for a personal glory run, he passed inside. It was too high for Catt, but he was able to tap it onto Mike Tindall for the decisive try.

A combination of injuries and poor form forced Ashton into fielding a largely makeshift team, however that did not necessarily work against him: the man-of-the-match award went to 22-year-old Wasps flanker Tom Rees, who made his debut against Scotland earlier in the campaign.

It was no wonder Ashton was purring about the potential of the England team as they seek to defend their World title in France later this year.

While Ashton admitted that Catt could be instrumental in hoisting England back among rugby's elite, he was full of praise for the youngsters as well.

"Flood is a very confident young man and has learnt a lot from training with Wilkinson," said 60-year-old Ashton.

"He has the same type of skills as Geraghty and Catt and these are the type of players I want filling the number 10 (fly-half) and 12 (inside centre) spots."

Ashton, who took over from Andy Robinson last December, said he had been impressed by Geraghty's poise.

"It is good to see young players with courage," said the former Ireland and Bath handler.

"I am not talking about physical courage - as anyone who plays at this level has obviously got it - but the mental courage.

"It is very reassuring to see that and he played like a wise man who had played many more times than he actually has done."

Catt admitted it had been a wonderful experience for him.

"I did feel a bit like a grandad out there!" said Catt, who qualified for England through his English mother.

"However while people like myself and Mike (Tindall) could add some experience it was just wonderful to see how the young guys matured during the game and feed off us. It was really special and one of my most memorable experiences in international rugby."

For both Geraghty and Flood it was a goldmine to have Catt beside them.

"It is a good blend of experience and youth," admitted Geraghty, who opted to play for England rather than Ireland.

It blended well today (Sunday)."

Flood, winning only his fifth cap having starred for the England Under-21 Grand Slam winning team last year, said Catt was an inspiration: "He's not bad for an old man!

"No seriously it's massive to have someone like him outside you.

"So many caps and also looking after you."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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