England Rugby: Catt the cream of the crop for Lancaster

Mike Catt is set to join England's coaching staff for next month's tour of South Africa

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has turned to Mike Catt to form part of his backroom staff, and that can only mean good news says Ralph Ellis.

The big carrot on the end of a stick for Catt now is to earn the chance to influence another World Cup – and this one will be on home soil.


As Roy Hodgson will be finding out this week, getting the right team of assistants to surround you is one of the key factors of international management.

Terry Venables, the last manager to take the football team to a major semi-final, had the likes of Don Howe and Bryan Robson in his backroom staff - people with strong opinions and high class pedigree who could challenge his views. The early names mentioned in Hodgson's potential set-up - Ray Lewington as a vastly experienced coach and Paul Ince as a firebrand former captain - show promising signs that the new manager will take the same route.

But then there is already an established model to follow from England's new rugby union coach Stuart Lancaster.

The Six Nations campaign which won him the job full time was built not so much on his own organisational quality as on the coaching ability of Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell. When the RFU failed to take Farrell from Saracens, Lancaster first sought New Zealand attack coach Wayne Smith - considered by many to be the best in the game. That failed - but he has now turned to Mike Catt on a temporary appointment for the summer tour.

It looks an inspired choice - the 40-year-old had strong views about how the game should be played when he was winning his 75 caps, and his time on the staff at London Irish hasn't mellowed that. He says his number one priority will be to find ways to encourage the backs to be more adventurous but without losing the defensive qualities that marked a successful Six Nations campaign.

Catt's tactical flair has twice had major impacts at tournaments. Everybody remembers his appearance at half time in the quarter-final in 2003 which turned probably defeat to victory against Wales and then brought the best from the young Jonny Wilkinson - all the way to that dramatic dropped goal in the final. And he was arguably the key player in 2007 as well, when a misfiring England team gradually found a rhythm to reach the final in France.

The big carrot on the end of a stick for Catt now is to earn the chance to influence another World Cup - and this one will be on home soil. Holders New Zealand are, not surprisingly, 2.77/4 favourites to win in 2015, but on the basis of what Lancaster has done so far a long term punt on England at the current price of 6.611/2 could be interesting.

Catt will bring key experience to support Lancaster. As he says of the South Africa tour "It will be the first time a lot of the young players will have toured South Africa and the first time Stuart has toured with an international team, so it is going to be a huge learning curve."

Lancaster seems to be picking the right people to help him on the journey. We must hope that Hodgson does the same.


Five things you might not know about Mike Catt

1. Born September 1971 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, his dad Jimmy was South African but his mother Anne English. He has three brothers - Douglas and Peter were born in the UK while the youngest Richard was born in South Africa.

2. A promising rugby player at Grey High School in Port Elizabeth, he represented Eastern Province.

3. Aged 21 he stayed with his grandparents in Eastbourne before going to Gloucester rugby club for trials. They rejected him, but he had one more attempt at Bath - and began a 12-year career of 220 games with them.

4. The 2007 World Cup, when he played in five of the seven matches and had a key role in England reaching the final, was his fourth appearance at a World finals. He won the MBE for his role in England's 2003 victory - and was promoted to an OBE for services to rugby in the 2011 honours.

5. His daughter Evie, born in 2002, was a baby when she suddenly stopped breathing due to what was later diagnosed as a heart condition. Mike saved her life by resuscitating her. (She is now healthy).


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