According to Catt in his autobiography he “blitzed” the other two in the test. The following Monday he was on a train returning home when Woodward called again. “Catty, I’ve picked a squad of 30 and it came down to a choice between you and Austin [Healey] for the final spot, ” he said. “I’m going to go with you. I was always going to go with you.”
Catt stood in the carriage shaking his head at the ridiculousness of the last part of that statement. “If he knew he was going to take me why didn’t he play me in any of the warm-up games, why didn’t he have me involved in the squad?” he mused. Indeed.
It is an astonishing story and, because Catt is now part of the England coaching team, one easily brought to mind in the last week or so as various teams have begun to cull their squads, to various degrees of outrage for some of the discarded players, in readiness for a final cut to 31 before August 31.
It would never happen today (and neither would prop Graham Rowntree, who played in that New Zealand win, be omitted, as he cruelly was, because the increase from 30 to 31 in squad size is to accommodate another prop), and nor should it happen. The game is more complex and the preparations just too detailed and thorough for it to be so.
Time also matters. Romantic observers clamour for ingénues to be thrown into international teams, but it cannot happen these days. Players need to be integrated into a team’s methods and plans, especially if that player is in a key decision-making position.
It was why England were so tardy in some eyes in blooding George Ford as fly-half last autumn. But he had not toured New Zealand during the summer and had simply not trained enough with the squad.
The debuts of Sam Burgess and Henry Slade last weekend? They would have been in mind when the pair began training with the squad around the Six Nations.
To those recently cut adrift the decisions will have been of little surprise. As Stuart Lancaster says: “I give each player a true assessment of where they are in the pecking order: you get problems when people do not know where they stand and if you are not honest to them.”