Catt covets England role but club take precedence

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The Independent Online

Should England suddenly find themselves in need of an attack coach – not just at the moment, but some time after the next World Cup in 2011 – they need look no further than the London Irish centre Mike Catt, who yesterday made an unequivocal declaration of interest in the role. It was not remotely presumptuous; for one thing, Catt has been operating in the shadowland between playing and coaching for much of the last two years; for another, he is a whole lot more experienced than some people being put forward for a senior role with the national team.

"I'd love to have an involvement with the England side," he said after training in Sunbury-on-Thames, where the Exiles are preparing for Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final with Perpignan. "I'm keen to build a coaching career for myself and when I throw myself into that on a full-time basis – I'll make a decision over the next couple of weeks about playing on next season – it will be my ultimate goal. But I want to make my mistakes at club level, rather than international level."

In other words, Catt's response to any immediate overtures from the Rugby Football Union would be short and to the point. Does he expect Martin Johnson, the 2003 World Cup-winning captain widely touted as an England manager in waiting, to make a similarly cautious call, rather than ascend the throne as King Johnno the Unready?

"I don't know – I just don't know," he replied. "Martin is one of the most respected figures in the game, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of what he's actually achieved in this field... we don't even know the job description, do we? Without some hard facts about what's going on, what is there to say?"

Catt expects to face the Catalans at the Madejski Stadium – "I'm on the coaching staff, so I get to pick myself," he joked – and there is every chance that two of the brilliant young backs he has helped develop, the midfielder Shane Geraghty and the full-back Delon Armitage, will be declared fit. Should Geraghty start, the current England head coach, Brian Ashton, will be tempted to drive up the M4 from Bath and cast an eye over him, with a view to selection for the two-Test trip to New Zealand in June.

Irish will find themselves treading a thin line between discipline – the tempestuous Armitage will be particularly interesting in this respect – and aggression. Their pool matches against Perpignan before Christmas were bitter, especially the 12-rounder fought out at Stade Aimé Giral, and yesterday the director of rugby, Brian Smith, took the opportunity to alert the referee, Alain Rolland, to a couple of issues.

"We expect the breakdown to be properly controlled," Smith said. "That means the tackler being made to roll away and people coming in the sides of rucks and mauls to be penalised. If that happens, we'll think we've had a fair crack of the whip.

"Yes, those pool matches were pretty rough and if things get a little tasty this time, we'll look after ourselves. But we're focusing on the rugby, on finding ways of playing at a decent tempo and moving that big pack of theirs around the field. We'll feel pretty empty if we don't take this opportunity. There will be others in the future, but we believe we have more to offer in this competition."

Should Irish win, they will play their semi-final against either Toulouse, or Cardiff Blues, at Twickenham on the last weekend in April. If Perpignan win, they will use Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier.

The other half of the draw will see Saracens, or the Ospreys, play Gloucester or Munster. A Saracens semi-final would be at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry; the Ospreys would play at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.