Mike Catt admits Ireland would be willing to gamble on Dan Sheehan’s fitness

The conundrum around their hookers makes finalising the Ireland squad trickier

Although there evidently remains genuine concern regarding the foot injury which forced Dan Sheehan to limp off before half-time in last Saturday’s 29-10 win over England, the odds appear to favour him being included in the final 33-man squad to be named next Monday.

Even if the hooker is likely to only be available halfway through the pool stages (a four-week lay-off), the Irish management would be prepared to gamble on his fitness such is the 24-year-old’s value to the team at set-piece time and around the pitch.

“Definitely. Why not? You definitely would do,” admitted Mike Catt to the travelling Irish media on Tuesday in the Stade Jean Dauger, after the squad’s training session in the build-up to the final warm-up game next Saturday (kick-off 8.45pm local time/7.45pm Irish).

“He is that type of player but let’s wait for the diagnosis. We don’t know what it is just yet, so we’ll wait and see. But we’ve got people on standby and players that know the system, know how we want to play,” said Catt, in reference to Diarmuid Barron being added to the four hookers who were already in the 38-man training squad.


Indeed, hedging his bets, Catt concluded by repeating: “But yes, he [Sheehan] would be a big loss if he wasn’t coming.”

The concerns over Sheehan are compounded by Ronan Kelleher’s hamstring strain ruling him out of consideration for a first outing of the season last Saturday. Like Sheehan, Jack Conan (foot) and Dave Kilcoyne (hamstring) have remained in Ireland, and while Andy Farrell has expressed his belief that the latter duo and Kelleher will all be fit for the World Cup opener against Romania a fortnight on from next Saturday, Kelleher missed training on Tuesday, as did Johnny Sexton and James Lowe.

But Catt admitted that the conundrum around their hookers especially makes finalising the squad trickier.

“One hundred per cent it does. You can look on the positive side; it gives somebody else an opportunity to put their hand up. Yeah it does, but every team is dealing with that. France have had to deal with it, and England. It’s just the way the beast is unfortunately. So, we’ve got ours to deal with too.”

Depending on the timeline for Sheehan’s return, presumably Farrell and co may even be weighing up the option of bringing four hookers.

Typical of a relatively young yet experienced coaching ticket, Catt has played in four World Cups, winning with England in 2003, as well as coaching at World Cups with England and Italy.

“Your preparation, your length of time together,” Catt suggested was critical for a good tournament. “And I think that there is where Andy has got it spot on,” added Catt in relation to the families being with the squad, notably during the training camp in the Algarve. “It gives the players even more reason to want to come back into camp and perform.

“The things I have probably learned is you can have the best intentions and sometimes things don’t go your way,” he added. “You do need a little bit of luck along the way, but we’ve prepared like every other team will and it’s now down to us actually being able to put it on the pitch on a Saturday when it matters. That’s the crucial thing, delivering when it matters.”

France is in the midst of a heatwave, with temperatures in the milder southwest to hit 40 degrees on Wednesday. In this and much else the week is replicating the build-up to Ireland’s second pool game against Tonga and with the same referee, Wayne Barnes.

“Same time, same heat, same pretty much everything so it’s been great for us in terms of a World Cup preparation. Only having certain people in changing-rooms – the detail that has gone into it has been very good. We’ve really gone exactly how the Tongan week will be, so there won’t be any hiccups come Tonga.”

Although a “devastated” Israel Folau – Tonga’s recently qualified, 73-times former Wallabies back three player – has been ruled out of the World Cup with a knee injury, similarly Catt noted that Samoa have “some proper X-factor players” as well as being a big, physical side.

“They are very dangerous on the counter-attack so it’s making sure that we tighten things up and we do what the right thing is to do in the game,” said Catt, who is a former London Irish team-mate of Samoa’s head coach Seilala Mapusua.

“One of the best I’ve played with,” recalled Catt, adding with a smile: “Oh yeah, fit and healthy he was. We did play a brand of rugby which was brilliant. It was special.”

The presence of Leinster’s attack coach Andrew Goodman among Samoa’s back room staff, along with defence coach Tana Umaga – not to mention Michael Ala’alatoa in their frontrow – should also give them a good insight into Ireland.

“Very much so,” said Catt, “but so do we which has helped us defensively in terms of understanding what Andy [Goodman] is like and the power they have got, the trick plays they have got. So, he’s brought some really good stuff to Leinster, and we have been well aware what is coming on the weekend again.”

In the absence of the suspended Sexton, Jack Crowley and Ross Byrne have started the two warm-up games at outhalf. Revealingly, Catt highlighted “the authority that Ross brings”, while adding: “Jack is probably still learning on that authority”, albeit “he’s got a massive amount of talent.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times