Just five training sessions into his tenure as Ireland attack coach, Mike Catt is nevertheless expecting “some good stuff” from Andy Farrell’s team against Scotland in Dublin tomorrow.
As Munster supporters waiting patiently for Stephen Larkham’s new offensive gameplan to take hold will attest, forging new beginnings takes time and that is certain to be the case for the national team as well, with a new man in Farrell at the helm and Catt’s impact apparently still at the getting to know you phase.
The former England team-mate and coaching colleague of Farrell’s, who has joined the Ireland staff from Italy, stressed it will not be a recipe for instant success, despite the excitement he shares with the players for the way forward being mapped out.
“I think a lot of it is trying to complement what the provinces do as well,” Catt said yesterday in his first interaction with the media at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin.
“You’re not going to be able to change them overnight so it’s just being realistic about how certain squads do certain things and then us jumping on the back of it or the players bringing their skills to the way Andy wants the game or the way we want the game to be played.
They’ve responded very well to the way Andy wants to play and I think we’re all pretty excited about the way he wants to play.
Catt said his first impressions of the Ireland squad were of “very humble guys, extremely hard working, and there is a willingness to learn”.
“No egos. In other teams I’ve played and I’ve coached there has always been big egos. You have a perception from the outside and must admit I’ve been very impressed with the group of players you have over here. There is no time to have this ego, to be above your station.
"Again, that boils down to your provinces and what it means to play for Ireland, ultimately we need to maintain that. The culture and environment that Andy or we produce is going to make sure none of that happens.”
Catt said he was confident that provincial form, and he insisted he was speaking about all the provinces, could easily be transferred to the high-intensity Test arena.
“Of course it can, you’ve still got to catch, kick and pass under pressure and I think the teams have been very successful in the European Cup and that’s the step just below international rugby so we’ve got a lot of experience in the side as well and individually too there are one or two players who want to right a few wrongs, so I think as a group of coaches we are expecting some good stuff at the weekend.”
That could involve a more counter-attacking style than previously seen when Irish kick receivers in the back three tended to either return the kick or run into contact and recycle. Catt suggested a more heads-up approach.
“Rugby is a decision-making game. If it’s on to kick, you kick.
“If it’s on to run, you run. That’s what we try to instil into the players and as long as they’re making the right decisions all of the time, the right decisions for the team, we’ll be all right.”
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, meanwhile, does not feel he needs to use his team’s World Cup failures, including a 27-3 opening pool loss to the Irish, as motivation for tomorrow’s game.
Townsend yesterday made 10 changes to the starting side that lost to hosts Japan in the Scots’ final pool match, including the dropping of in-form Racing 92 fly-half Finn Russell for a breach of team protocol and said the team was not dwelling on the past.
“I don’t know if we have a point to prove,” the Scotland boss said. “What I can say is that the team have prepared really well, the intensity levels and communication in training have been excellent. Things have gone well, but we know mindset has a big part to play in high-level sport.
We have to be focused, confident and prepared to do the tough stuff at the weekend. It’s a new team.
“We know the performance in Yokohama wasn’t anywhere near good enough but this is a new team. The players are looking forward rather than back.”
Adam Hastings gets his first Six Nations start in place of Russell, while there is a Test debut at No.8 for Edinburgh’s Nick Haining.
S Hogg (Exeter) - captain; S Maitland (Saracens), H Jones (Glasgow), S Johnson (Glasgow), B Kinghorn (Edinburgh); A Hastings (Glasgow), A Price (Glasgow); R Sutherland (Edinburgh), F Brown (Glasgow), Z Fagerson (Glasgow); S Cummings (Glasgow), J Gray (Glasgow); J Ritchie (Edinburgh), H Watson (Edinburgh), N Haining (Edinburgh).
S McInally (Edinburgh), A Dell (London Irish), S Berghan (Edinburgh), B Toolis (Edinburgh), C Du Preez (Worcester), G Horne (Glasgow), R Hutchinson (Northampton), C Harris (Gloucester).