England make Catt call after Smith's snub

 

England finished the Six Nations with a striking air of optimism, largely generated by the holy trinity in their back-room team. Suddenly, they find themselves facing a five-match, three-Test tour of Springbok country – as demanding a summer schedule as they have ever undertaken – with what might be called a trinity of holes: no full-time attack coach, no specialist defence strategist and a gap in the line-out where Leicester's Tom Croft used to be.

Yesterday's positive news – confirmation that Mike Catt, a World Cup-winning centre in 2003, had signed a short-term contract that will see him assist the head coach Stuart Lancaster and the forwards coach Graham Rowntree on the trek through South Africa – was wholly overshadowed by grim tidings from New Zealand, where the inspirational All Black tactician Wayne Smith said he was rejecting a job offer from Twickenham for family reasons. Following Andy Farrell's decision to stick with Saracens rather than build on his good work during the Six Nations by committing himself to the red-rose cause, this latest knock-back was unwelcome in the extreme.

"Wayne told me he'd had a long, hard think about it before deciding he wanted to stay in Waikato," Lancaster said. "His parents, both of whom are quite elderly, live nearby and he has a son at university there, so I understand and respect his decision. Clearly it's disappointing, but when we spoke he was very complimentary about what we're doing with England: he saw a lot of comparisons with where the All Blacks were in 2004, just as they started moving towards the cultural shift that brought them the world title last year. My next move? The trip to South Africa is almost upon us, so I'll concentrate on getting that right. I won't be charging around looking for new coaches until we return."

Smith indicated last October that while he considered his All Black days to be over, he wanted to return to international coaching in time for the 2015 World Cup in England. He will probably do so: while the New Zealand hierarchy was alarmed at the prospect of him working with an England side who might threaten to reclaim the Webb Ellis Trophy, hence the talk of him being part of All Black rugby's "intellectual property", there would be far less of an objection to his working with, say, one of the Pacific Islands teams.

As if Smith's news was not dispiriting enough, Lancaster was also informed that both Croft, an automatic choice on England's blind-side flank, and the Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples would miss the tour through injury, thereby joining the Northampton forwards Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood on the absentee list. With another Franklin's Gardens player, Calum Clark, serving a lengthy suspension, the back-five resources are much more limited than they might have been.

As a result of Croft's withdrawal – the flanker injured his neck messing up what should have been a straightforward tackle during the Harlequins-Leicester league game 11 days ago – James Haskell will make an earlier than anticipated return to Test duty. Haskell is playing Super 15 rugby in New Zealand with the Highlanders and as he struck his current deal after the Rugby Football Union announced that those opting to move offshore would be picked for England only under exceptional circumstances, he was not expected to feature this summer. Apparently, a sudden shortage of international-class back-rowers qualifies as an exceptional circumstance. So much for principles.

Even though Haskell has just picked up a three-week ban for punching, he is certain to be included in a 42-man party due to be announced a week tomorrow. It may even be that Steffon Armitage, whose outstanding back-row form for Toulon is at the heart of the French club's continuing challenge for the Top 14 and Amlin Challenge Cup titles, will be picked alongside him.

If the apparent softening of the RFU's position on overseas-based players will create some selectorial elbow room in the loose forward department, the coaching deficit promises to be far more serious. Lancaster was at pains to point out that Catt now had a "big opportunity" to make his pitch for a permanent position – the 40-year-old from Port Elizabeth will leave London Irish following this weekend's concluding Premiership match with Gloucester – but he is still in the foothills of his back-room career and has several Everests to climb before he can be mentioned in the same breath as Smith.

Another New Zealander, the former Test wing John Kirwan, is a more obvious candidate for the long-term role. Lancaster himself indicated that a southern hemisphere voice might be music to his ears. "I think bringing someone in from outside to challenge us and broaden our thinking might be good," he said.

This time last month, Farrell was patently the "right decision". Then it was Smith. When push came to shove, both men made their excuses and left Lancaster swinging in the wind. "I'm not taking it personally," the coach said, with a laugh. Worryingly for England supporters who drank in the Six Nations successes like mother's milk following the poison of the World Cup campaign, it sounded very much like laughter in the darkness.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before