Mike Catt: England will have improved from the Scotland game

Ireland backs coach anticipates Twickenham crowd will be in full voice as Ireland seek consecutive Grand Slams

No one in the Irish set-up has a better insight into the English mentality than Mike Catt, who won 75 caps for them in a stellar career, and accordingly he appreciates full well the kind of reaction their loss to Scotland last time out will provoke. Catt, who played a key, steadying role in England’s 2003 World Cup win, expects an improved English performance compared to their display in Murrayfield.

“They are not going to make as many errors as they did against Scotland. Believe me, they are not going to let that happen again. They are going to be a much better side than they were against Scotland, and we’ve got to prepare ourselves for it.

“They’ve got a lot to work on in terms of their defence and their attack. It’s not just one thing that they need to do, so they’ll get there and it’s four or five weeks into the competition now and they’ll get better and better each week. We expect them to be a lot better than they were against Scotland.”

Catt also anticipates that the Twickenham crowd will be in full voice as well, not least with Ireland seeking consecutive Grand Slams and hot favourites to do so.


“I suppose there’s a lot of hope that England get it right and get themselves back up to a level where the crowds can be massively proud of England as a whole after the past two or three years of what they’ve gone through. It’s in its infancy, it’s driving it, but Twickenham is one of the best stadiums in the world and the fans are like that. We’ve got to make sure that we try to negate that in terms of how we play the game to quieten them down a bit.”

The squad’s review into the performance against Wales confirmed that the performance “wasn’t perfect by any means”, according to Catt, who added: “We went away from what we were really good at against Wales, and it’s something that we’ve addressed and need to make sure we get right.”

Accordingly the Irish backs coach admitted Ireland cannot be as imperfect at Twickenham, not least when faced with Felix Jones’ newly designed blitz defence. “No, no we can’t, but also that defence is coming hard and it’s only going to get harder in terms of the speed. That’s Felix’s mindset and Jacques Nienaber’s, keep going harder, and that’s where we need to be composed enough to be able to play around with it a little bit.”

In this regard Ireland have faced a similar system when encountering the Springboks. “It is, and it’s very much helter-skelter, and it’s line speed, and it puts you under pressure, and I think that’s always what we’ve thrived on as a team, especially over the last year, year and a half. Being able to embrace that pressure and having the skill set to be able to try and break it down.

“That’s the challenge we have, and I think the boys love that challenge when something like that gets put in front of us. It’s not an easy challenge. It’s one that we have to think really hard about, and in the moment you’ve got to be calm enough to execute stuff.”

Jones’ system is in its teething stages, and Neinaber has famously said, with curious precision, it takes 14 games to bring into effect properly. Italy, Wales and Scotland have all dissected the English defence, but while Catt acknowledged there will be opportunities for Ireland, he added: “But whether you can take them is another thing. So it might take them seven games. It might take them four games. It might take them 20 games, but we’ll just play the pitch that’s in front of us and we’ll go from there.”

Catt has also known and played alongside Steve Borthwick since the start of the latter’s career.

“Steve was, what would I call it, he was obsessive about rugby, and I think that’s something that he was always going to do – go into coaching on the back of it, (with) that whole obsession and desire to be successful. I had him as a 17/18-year-old when he turned up at Bath and he would be out on the pitch with me for a lot of hours. He only wanted to be the best he could be. I think that’s probably what he’s taking into his coaching stuff as well. He is relatively new at it but he’s had a lot of experience under Eddie Jones, and he’s been at the highest level as a player too so he fully understands it.”

Garry Ringrose appears on course to be fit this round four game after taking part in the squad’s open training session with under-20s at the Aviva Stadium, while Catt also sounded reasonably optimistic that Hugo Keenan might be back training next week even though he was restricted to fitness work due to the knee injury which ruled him out of Ireland’s win over Wales.

Ryan Baird did not train due to a back spasm, while Iain Henderson continued his rehab with Ulster and Oli Jager was also absent due to a “bang on the knee”.

Open sessions have become an annual and popular custom during a fallow week in the Six Nations, for spectators and squad alike, and asked what could be done to improve the atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium on match days, Catt said: “It’s not for me to say to be honest, we get on and do our little bits and pieces. It’s been mentioned before, so hopefully something’s going to be produced in the near future.

“When the crowd do get going I know our away support has been unbelievably good, especially at the World Cup. It’s something that everybody needs to address, I suppose, and we’ll see what happens.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times