MIKE CATT will complete one of English rugby's greatest comebacks when he runs out in the World Cup semi-final against France on Sunday.
The 32-year-old Bath centre has forced himself into England boss Clive Woodward's midfield equation, removing his club colleague Mike Tindall in the process.
It represents a staggering revival in fortunes for Catt, who spent most of last season injured and then only made England's World Cup squad because Charlie Hodgson and Alex King were both injured.
But his decision to take the summer off, make a full recovery and recharge the batteries has now reaped glorious dividends.
Sunday's clash at Telstra Stadium will see Catt win his 60th cap, but make just a second Test start since England beat South Africa at Twickenham two years ago.
He has been rewarded for an outstanding super-sub display against Wales last weekend, when his second-half appearance turned a tense quarter-final England's way.
Catt's selection is one of four personnel changes from the Welsh clash.
Elsewhere, Josh Lewsey returns in the full-back position, prop Trevor Woodman takes over from Jason Leonard and flanker Richard Hill is back for a first appearance since England's opening World Cup game a month ago.
Hill replaces Lewis Moody, but he will be on the bench, along with Tindall and Leonard.
With Lewsey reclaiming the number 15 jersey after recovering from a hamstring injury, Jason Robinson switches from full-back to right-wing duties and Dan Luger drops out.
Leonard, meanwhile, is on the bench. If required for duty, he will win his 112th Test cap and break Frenchman Philippe Sella's world record.
Catt, though, took centre-stage yesterday as Woodward unveiled his strongest starting XV of the tournament at England's beach-front hotel in Manly.
"It's down to a lot of hard work," said Catt, a survivor from England's 1995 World Cup semi-final defeat against New Zealand in Cape Town, when he was famously 'run over' by a rampaging Jonah Lomu.
"It has been a pretty lonely road at times, but I never really lost sight of my ultimate goal, which was to play for England in the World Cup.
"I knew that if I just kept quiet and put my head down, I knew I would be capable of playing international rugby again.
"Clive believes in my ability and has for the past five years, for which I am very grateful.
"A lot of people wrote me off six months ago, even two months ago, and that's why I say rugby is so fickle.
"Rugby has been everything to me in my life, but now I have a completely different outlook."
He added: "I am enjoying it a lot more and I don't worry about it any more.
"Rugby is a funny sport, to be honest. I've had my injuries in the past two or three years, but I've come through them now and I am thoroughly enjoying my rugby."
As for what Catt might bring to the party, he reflected: "A bit of freshness I suppose.
"This team has performed well in the last two years, but maybe there's a bit of staleness. Hopefully, I can bring a bit of freshness and a different perspective into the game."
Woodward has no doubt that Catt deserves his call-up, even though Tindall remains one of England's most consistent performers.
"It was quite straightforward, he has been playing very well. I don't think it is any slight on Mike Tindall at all. Catt deserves his chance," said the England coach.
Elsewhere, Woodman's return was widely anticipated after a powerful second-half display against Wales, but it is Hill's comeback which is most eagerly anticipated.
England have missed his all-action presence over the past month, as he sat out appointments with South Africa, Samoa, Uruguay and Wales during a prolonged recovery process from hamstring trouble.
And with Hill reunited alongside Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio at Moody's expense, England's revered back-row unit know they face a potential match-winning battle opposite the French breakaway trio of Serge Betsen, Olivier Magne and Imanol Harinordoquy.
"Richard Hill is a world-class player," Woodward added. "He's clearly a little bit short of match-fitness, but you see him running around and I don't think it is going to be a factor. Adrenaline and passion will take over, come Sunday.
"To see Hill, Dallaglio and Back go up against the three French back-rowers is going to be one hell of a clash, and I certainly know who my money's on."
With England at full-strength and targeting a 21st victory from the last 22 starts, the scene is set for a pulsating contest.
"We've set a lot of stall on this," added Woodward.
"It is a brutal world we live in, but Test match rugby is about winning. We've got a winning mentality, even though we haven't been playing well, but we are still winning.
"Clearly, France are going into the game with a little more form than us, but I think that you will find come Sunday, you can tear all those postscripts up. It's 15 versus 15.
"It doesn't matter how we win. We are not Torvill and Dean, we are not here to get marks out of 10.
"Both teams have played five, won five, and I see it as a fantastic contest between two great rugby teams.
"We haven't lost a game of any note for a long period of time, and I don't expect us to lose on Sunday. I am very confident in my team."