Mike Catt excited as Paul O’Connell’s arrival adds more ballast to coaching ticket

Attack coach mulling over the composition of Ireland’s back three for Cardiff test

Mike Catt: “Attack, for me, is all about decision-making. Seeing the picture and making the right decisions, whether it’s our kicking game or our passing and running.” (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

The eye-catching addition of Paul O’Connell to the Irish coaching ticket as the new forwards coach hasn’t just galvanised Irish supporters – well, a good proportion of them anyway – and the players but, it seems, the coaching ticket as well.

The 115-times capped O’Connell, a former Irish and Lions captain, brings a new, distinctive and certainly loud voice to Ireland’s HPC training base and the dressing-room, as well as his own views.

"He has some very strong beliefs in what needs to be done, so that's fantastic," says attack coach Mike Catt. "So, I'll learn a lot from Paulie. He's been a lot in the engine room, all his life and his career and that's what he's coaching now.

“That mental toughness he brings – especially from a breakdown point of view – there’s a real intent about how he does things. The past three/four days I’ve had communicating with him have been brilliant. He’s added a few new things.


“I think the players are going to love having him on board. There’s a lot of passion and drive coming from Paulie for that Irish shirt, it’s great.”

In this, O’Connell can bring a new dynamic to the coaching ticket, as Catt outlines: “It’s more the intent piece, really driving the intent. What it means to play for Ireland, how we drive the technical side. Him and John Fogarty will be driving that.

“He’s got a hell of a wealth of experience, he totally understands what the players are going through and how they get to where they need to go. He’s another strong voice that complements Faz. There’s a good balance between the coaches of good guys and bad guys really.”

As to which category Catt falls into, more likely the former, he smiles and says: “I don’t know! I’ll let the players decide.”

It can't be said that Catt himself has revolutionized Ireland's attacking play yet, although Ireland scored more tries (17) in last year's Six Nations, when they were joint highest try scorers with France, compared to the previous year (14).

As he implied, an improved set-piece – particularly attacking lineouts – and breakdown would help.

“I think the breakdown is something that’s chopped and changed over the last three or four years, players getting used to it with different referees. Being clinical in our set-piece is absolutely crucial. We’ve struggled a little bit in terms of getting into key areas in the pitch and then letting a team off.

Key moments

“In those key moments, we can really tighten up and put teams under the cosh in those key areas, for me it’s crucial. But, we’ve got a great bunch of young guys who are willing to learn and want to play. The more we get to know them, the more we’ll expect from them.

“From my point of view, the physicality and intent piece is something we need to develop but also making the right decisions. Attack, for me, is all about decision-making. Seeing the picture and making the right decisions, whether it’s our kicking game or our passing and running. Those are areas we’ll always be developing, we’ll never be satisfied with what we’ve got.”

With Stuart Lancaster senior coach at Leinster, Graham Rowntree the Munster forwards coach and Catt and Andy Farrell reunited with Ireland, much has been made of the entire English 2015 World Cup coaching ticket resurfacing in Irish rugby.

Reflecting on a journey that culminated in such a crushing anti-climax on home soil, Catt pointed out that group rivals Australia and Wales had vastly more experience, both coaching and playing.

“That’s no excuse we should have won it but Wales have gone through that same pain the previous World Cup, the same with Australia so it was just one of those events that unfortunately didn’t go our way.”

Of course, the experience gained was always likely to make them better coaches.

“We learned a lot from it,” admits Catt. “I think Stuart is reborn now. It is brilliant to see Graham, Andy and Stuart all rebounded on to excellent form really. You just get better as a person, more resilient at things and you learn and you know what works at international level. I don’t really dwell too much in the past so I am happy to be able to help here.”

Catt, Farrell and co appear to have plenty to mull over regarding the composition of the back three for Saturday’s opener in Cardiff. With Jacob Stockdale sidelined, Hugo Keenan looks the likeliest to play at fullback, even though Jordan Larmour has made nine of his 11 starts at there (including the last five).

However, with Keenan at fullback, both Larmour’s games since his comeback from the dislocated shoulder he sustained in Treviso last October have been on the right wing.

He struggled with Conor Murray’s box kicks against Munster but has ironed out these glitches before, notably against Scotland in the World Cup opener, and undoubtedly brings X-factor, while Keenan has progressed more than any other Irish player since the resumption.

“Jordan has some incredible attributes, his footwork, his strength, everything that he has got. Hugo’s work-rate, his work ethic, his non-negotiables are second to none and he just wants what is best for the team. He has come in out of nowhere,” says Catt.

“I think he will get better and better the smarter he becomes as an international player too. So again, he is pretty young where Jordan has that ‘X’ factor, ball in hand, with which he is very strong. So they complement each other really.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times