Mike Catt committed to sharpening Irish attacking edge
‘You have to nail what you create. We’ve obviously been pretty disappointed’
Mike Catt: “It’s a decisions-based game. We’re happy with what we’re creating but then it’s [about] the final pass or the final decision or putting ourselves in the right part of the pitch that can create pressure on the opposition.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
In sport deeds divine success or failure, words describe the journey.
The disappointment has been compounded by the manner of the defeats; two tries in 160 minutes have narrowed the focus of criticism. There is nothing that Ireland’s attack coach can say that will assuage the latent outside frustration; people who don’t want to hear won’t listen anyway.
And yet he tried, responding to questions about a malfunctioning component in the Irish game. There’s always going to be an element of subjectivity, answers parsed from a certain perspective, but he’s entitled to argue or explain his position.
The attack is not a component part that operates in isolation or independent of other elements in the principles of play. Looking under the hood of the recent Irish performances, one issue that is applying a brake to try-scoring potential is an inability to recognise opportunity and/or be able to communicate it effectively.
Catt was asked what was being done in training to help players improve that decision-making process in a match environment if it doesn’t come naturally.
“[We are working with them] to see the pictures really. I think a lot of it comes down to the belief of the player, that he makes the right decision on the back of the picture he sees; the kick, the run, the pass options, the basics in rugby really.
“That’s the key thing, it’s making sure that the players first see the picture and make the right decision on the back of it. We missed opportunities to really put the pressure on France in terms of playing in the right areas of the pitch as well.
“It’s not just about the attack; it’s making sure we can change the momentum of the game. Again there were opportunities to do that and we didn’t. These are the things we need to be a lot better at.”
If the player in possession can’t see it then it’s up to a team-mate to quickly bring him up to speed. Catt acknowledged: “Communication is everything. In the past, everyone has been very reliant on your nines and 10s controlling a game. So, again, that’s another huge work-on for us in terms of the quietness of some of the players. It’s something that we can be so much better at.”
He emphasised that communication is a collective responsibility, falling to centres, wingers and fullbacks as well as the halfbacks.
“It’s about making sure that players understand that you have to nail what you create. We’ve obviously been pretty disappointed in terms of our finishing.
“It’s a decisions-based game. We’re happy with what we’re creating but then it’s [about] the final pass or the final decision or putting ourselves in the right part of the pitch that can create pressure on the opposition.
“I don’t think we did that well enough against France so these are all things that the players will have to make sure they get right for the weekend.”
He spoke about the evolutionary relationship between coach and player.
“We have some deep thinkers in the team and some of them just need to free themselves up a little bit and go and play the game. Every person, every player is different so it is really getting to know the players and understanding what makes them tick.
“[It’s about] how they can drag each other through those games as well. If it is not a big attacking game can we be the best defensive team? It’s more the players doing it with the intent and us driving that intent.
“The game is still a simple game. People have to make the right decisions at the right time. It’s just how quickly we can get the guys [to] adapt on a consistent basis where they can do it every single week, at the highest level against the best defences.”
The accusation that the players are struggling to adapt from a rugby culture that was prescriptive to one that is less rigid is a misnomer. Catt said: “We’ve still got structure. It’s them [the players] making the right decisions on the back of the structure.
“Where the game has changed a little bit [is that] it is much more unstructured attack. There are lots of turnovers, lots of ball in play now. So, you can spend all your time doing all the lineouts you want but you might only get six in an attacking position. It’s where you put your efforts into the players, the unstructured game, from kick-return, from counterattacking and that stuff is where we feel the game is definitely going.”
Catt was asked about whether the outhalf options might benefit from a new face and skillset in Harry Byrne.
He replied: “What we don’t want to do is keep chopping and changing all the time so the three currently who are with us at the moment – Johnny [Sexton], Billy [Burns] and Ross [Byrne] – have performed well for their provinces and deserve to be here.”
That’s fair enough but by the same token the coaches choose players and that brings with it accountability. The fault lines have to be exposed. It’s pointless, literally, doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Rome has to be a watershed moment in the campaign.