Catt warns England to expect 'very fierce' tour

South African-born new backs coach tells squad to be ready for a hard time in his homeland

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When the England squad boarded the flight for Johannesburg last night – two flights, to be precise, thanks to the difficulty of squeezing 40-odd players plus support staff into a single business-class compartment – they were both fully equipped on the personnel front and fully armed with advice on what to expect from the world's most belligerent union nation.

"The welcome will be brilliant off the field and extremely hostile on it," said the South African-born backs coach Mike Catt, who is embarking on his first tour as a member of red-rose backroom staff. "The rugby will be very, very fierce."

It was ever thus. Back in the day, when the man from Port Elizabeth returned to his homeland as an England midfielder, he took God's amount of stick.

"I was given a hard time: they loved giving me a chorus about Jonah Lomu, just as a reminder," he said, referring to the World Cup semi-final in 1995, when the great All Black wing spent the entire afternoon trampling Catt into the Cape Town dirt. "The people there will be just as vocal this time. There'll be a bit of abuse. Dealing with it is part of the job."

While Catt has spent the last couple of days giving this latest band of tourists the benefit of his knowledge, helped by another red-rose South African in the shape of the Saracens centre Brad Barritt, it is a fact of life that at some point over the next three weeks or so, each individual player will have to plot his own route through the storm.

"Is it possible for me to communicate the intensity to the players in advance? No, it isn't possible," Catt acknowledged. "In the end, you have to feel it for yourself."

Recruited by the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, the former Bath and London Irish back has no clear idea how long his current role will last. "It's up to me to put stuff in place that will help us win these five games in South Africa," Catt commented. "That's all I'm thinking about right now. I believe I can add something of value because I'm a product of my experiences and I've been through what these players are about to face.

"Not one of them will be able to come up and say to me: 'Mike, you don't understand.' I do understand, because I've been there. My door will be open and I'll be honest with people. You have to be yourself in this job because everyone else is already taken."

Lancaster was understandably relieved at the decision of a Rugby Football Union disciplinary tribunal on Tuesday night to dismiss a citing against the Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi, who was at significant risk of missing the tour after hitting the Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care with a borderline tackle during last weekend's Premiership final.

"I'm pleased with the outcome," the coach said. "Manu is now struggling with a foot injury, but he's had it scanned and he should be good to go next week. That's two big sighs of relief."

He will be equally relieved if England emerge from the Test series with the Springboks, which begins in Durban in nine days' time, with both honour and reputation intact. Lancaster has made remarkable progress in rebuilding public faith in the national team following the behavioural excesses that led to the unravelling of the World Cup campaign in New Zealand last year, but recent improvements did not prevent him revisiting the subject on the eve of departure. Not to put too fine a point on it, he presented his players with a "my way or the highway" option.

"I told them that this is the way the bus is going and asked them whether they wanted to be on it," the coach said.

"I think things are pretty clear and that people now understand that it's about giving something back. The starting point of the discussion was remembering how things were six months ago and talking about how we'd arrived at where we are now from where we were then. I'm not going to tell players they can't ever go out, but there are parameters and guidelines. My parameters and my guidelines."

Comments