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‘Italy Caused England Some Serious Problems’ – Catt

‘Italy Caused England Some Serious Problems’ – Catt

Ireland assistant coach Mike Catt is pictured during the warm-up before last Friday's 38-17 Guinness Men's Six Nations win over France in Marseille ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Ireland assistant coach Mike Catt believes Italy took a positive first step forward under new head coach Gonzalo Quesada last Saturday, despite ultimately losing 27-24 to England in their opening Guinness Men’s Six Nations match.

As an attack specialist, Catt was particularly impressed with the Azzurri’s dynamic first half performance, which saw Paolo Garbisi and Tommaso Allan register a try each. Monty Ioane’s 84th-minute score earned them a losing bonus point.

Italy made six line breaks in Rome, the joint-most of any team last weekend, along with Ireland and Wales, and they also had the highest tackle evasion rate across the first round with 22%.

“The nice thing I liked about the Italy performance was…they didn’t have a great World Cup, and I think they put their hands up to that as a group of players,” said Catt, who was Italy’s attack coach between 2016 and 2019.

“For them to turn around and put in a performance like that against a good England side was very impressive. They are obviously trying to impress the new coach (Gonzalo Quesada) as well.

“I just thought the way they played, they didn’t go away from their DNA in terms of how they’ve played over the last couple of years.

“I think with Quesada they’ll tighten things up a little bit but when they get going. They caused England some serious problems by scoring some very, very good tries.

“I think it’s a team that really work hard for each other, especially defensively. Their work-rate off the ball is huge and you can see that. We need to make sure we do our bits and pieces right to try and break that down.”

Ireland have won their last 14 meetings with Italy since being held try-less in a historic 22-15 Six Nations defeat at the Stadio Olimpico in 2013. Victory on Sunday would make it 10 Championship wins in a row for Ireland, their longest such run in the Five or Six Nations.

Andy Farrell’s men are back on home soil for the first time in eight Tests, and the Aviva Stadium has been a real fortress for them with a record 16 successive wins at the venue. During that run, they have scored four or more tries in 12 of those matches.

“It’s great to be back at home,” agreed Catt. “Marseille was a little bit quieter than the previous Stade de France games in the Rugby World Cup.

“Hopefully we can hear that voice again, because the fans were incredible, and I’m sure the atmosphere’s going to be incredible on Sunday.”

Munster prop Oli Jager has been added to the Ireland squad this week, as they look to build on their record away triumph over France. Catt remains hopeful that the coaching group will have a full deck to choose from.

Speaking ahead of Friday’s team announcement, he acknowledged: “There are a few guys obviously with a few bumps and bruises from the France game. There are a couple that are still rumbling around. We’ll make a decision on them.

“But we are pretty confident that everyone will be fit to train fully tomorrow (Thursday), and obviously selection on Friday.

Calvin (Nash), Hugo (Keenan), ‘Ringer’ (Garry Ringrose) is coming through nicely. He obviously didn’t train today, but he is progressing nicely. We’ll see how they pull up over the next couple of days.”

A shoulder injury saw Ringrose miss the 38-17 bonus point success at the Stade Vélodrome, while a number of personnel changes could be made as Ireland aim to finish the tournament’s first fortnight at the top of the table and with a match-sharpened squad.

Following last year’s home win over France, Farrell made six changes for the third round trip to Italy. Going back to the 2022 Six Nations, the Wigan man also made six alterations for the Italy game, which came a week after a bruising 30-24 loss in Paris.

Asked about the management team’s approach to the team selection, Catt explained: “First and foremost it’s who is available, who comes through alright. Secondly, I think we’re in a good position in terms of players that have been in with us over the past two, three, four years.

“Nobody’s really new to it, so for people to fit in if they need to get their opportunity, it’s crucial for us to have that squad.

“It’s a little bit like in the World Cup and the previous Six Nations, you need that squad of players to produce, and I think we’ve done that really well.

“The players that we have currently got, whoever we might pick to build momentum on the back of it, we’re confident that they can all fit in.”