- Catt keen to measure burgeoning England attack against world leaders
- "We’re very high on confidence after the Six Nations" – Catt
England’s attacking game has come on leaps and bounds in the space of 12 months and the man charged with driving the standards, Mike Catt, believes the New Zealand tour will be an invaluable next step in their development.
A look at the ‘tries for’ column stands as indisputable evidence of progress and makes satisfying reading for the coaches. In the 2013 RBS 6 Nations, Stuart Lancaster’s side scored five tries – with four plundered in the opening round thumping of Scotland – while in the 2014 tournament England ran in 14 as they pushed Ireland all the way for the title.
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But the stats are only part of the story, with Danny Care and Owen Farrell emerging as half backs who can control Test matches with a blend of tempo and precision and Mike Brown becoming a smooth attacking threat to add to all his defensive solidity.
With an eye on the fast approaching Rugby World Cup in September 2015, Catt considers the marked improvement to be down to more experienced players who play a brand of rugby at their clubs which is in line with England’s principles.
“The players are developing and getting more and more experienced,” said the 75-Test former England international. “They’ve been together through some highs and they’ve been through some massive lows too and they now understand what international rugby is all about.
“We’re a year on and I’d like to think that if you develop this far in a year or 18 months, in another year’s time we’ll be a lot better.
“And a massive factor for us is that the top clubs have pretty much changed the way they play. They play a lot more how we like the game to be played, so the development that Saracens, Northampton, Bath have made, those guys play a fantastic brand of rugby.”
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Highs in this season’s tournament included wonderful wins over Ireland and Wales in front of boisterous Twickenham crowds, which went some way to avenge the opening-round low administered by Gael Fickou’s last-gasp match-winning try for France.
Jack Nowell’s performance in the Paris defeat is emblematic of another aspect of England’s attacking progress: backing the resolve of young players to deliver their points of difference.
After the nightmare start of failing to gather the kick-off which led to Yohan Huget’s opening try, the then 20-year-old debutant racked up 14 tackles, forced three turnovers and took six of his eight carries over the gainline with a combination of expert timing and deft footwork.
Catt explained: “There’s an understanding that, as 20 year-olds, they are going to make mistakes. Everybody does, especially at international level. But it is how these guys have developed game-by-game that has really impressed us and that’s purely down to an attitude and a mental toughness in these youngsters.
“In the environment Stuart has created, players are able to come in and do what they’re good at, we’re not expecting them to do things they’re not used to doing. It’s a great environment to be in as a player and they’re able to go out and express themselves. We don’t have a go at the players for making mistakes or anything like that, it’s about them going out and making the right decisions at the right time.”
England’s burgeoning attack will next be pitted against the world champion All Blacks, who boast a perfect 14-game winning streak from 2013. The summer tour involves three Tests in Auckland (June 7), Dunedin (June 14) and Hamilton (June 21), with a non-Test midweek game against Canterbury Crusaders on June 17.
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Lancaster’s troops rightly travel high on confidence and have nothing to lose against a side Catt rates as the best attacking unit in the world. He considers New Zealand’s game understanding from prop to full back as their main strength, but says England are out to “go and get them”.
“From our point of view, we’ve got nothing to lose, we’re going down there very high on confidence after the Six Nations so we’ll see how the boys go,” he added.
“New Zealand’s general understanding of the game from 1-15 sets them apart, they’ve played touch rugby from the age of five, played in beautiful conditions and it’s their number one sport.
“The other thing is that their tight five do what their centres do, so what they’ve got is 15 players who totally understand and are able to execute things that other people can’t.
“They’re the leaders in the attacking world and we want to go and get them.”