England vs France preview: We have the ‘magic’ to finish the job, says Mike Catt

Attacking skills coach laments missed opportunities against Scotland

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Mike Catt’s international career was still in its infancy the last time England won a championship title in front of their own crowd at Twickenham – way back in 1996 and four years before the old Five Nations became the new Six.

Catt, who played full-back that day, remembers precious little about it, but there will be no lack of recall if England’s backs fail to sharpen up their act when the title goes on the line against France on Saturday.

“Of course I accept there were too many missed opportunities against Scotland last Saturday,” said the attacking skills coach, who did not attempt to shirk responsibility for the forward passes and unseen overlaps that cost England a hatful of points and made their forthcoming task a whole lot more difficult than it might have been. “But 99 per cent of what we did was good, so if you’re asking me if things are fixable, I’d say ‘yes’ because there’s nothing really broken.

“However, we’re playing Test rugby against international-class defences and we have to understand that we might have only one or two chances during a game, rather than the five or six we created for ourselves against the Scots. The key for us is to stick to what we are doing, while touching up the finishing.”

Catt believes England’s Bath-influenced back division has taken significant strides over the seven weeks spent in the Six Nations camp. “We have people blessed with individual magic that you can’t coach and they’ve been given the freedom to play, but the important thing is the building of the relationship between them,” he said, happy in the knowledge that England have scored more than twice  as many tries as their title rivals. “When I look at the way the understanding has developed between George Ford [the outside-half] and Jonathan Joseph [the outside centre], it’s very encouraging.”

Joseph, alongside whom Catt operated at London Irish at the fag end of his playing days, has been something of a revelation over the four rounds of the tournament to date – and the coach has a simple explanation. “Jonathan gets it,” he said. “He understands the game, which is not something common to  all players. He’s a brilliant communicator, he has a low error count and, on top of that, he now has belief. He believes he belongs in international rugby.

“We base everything on decision-making, so if you can’t see the picture in front of you, you’re going to put yourself under pressure and be open to mistakes. What Jonathan and George have is the ability to see the picture. They don’t look ahead or look back but live in the moment. That kind of understanding helps at the top level. The All Blacks have a load of these players.”

Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, will name his side tomorrow, with two of the tight forwards who played off the bench against Scotland – the hooker Tom Youngs and the lock Geoff Parling – under consideration for a starting place.

Mike Catt’s international career was still in its infancy the last time England won a championship title in front of their own crowd at Twickenham – way back in 1996 and four years before the old Five Nations became the new Six.

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