Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Catt looks for check mate in game of chess

There's a lot of history between England and Ireland, with some key dates etched deep in the psyche.

Now, some might harken back to 1607, though those who do may be politically motivated rather than than sports orientated.

Irish rugby followers are more likely to recall the flight of Keith Earls en route to the line against the English at Twickenham in February 2010 than the Flight of Earls from Lough Swilly 403 years earlier.

For all its intense physicality, Anglo-Irish rugby is less brutal than its political counterpart and less bloody than the various transgressions over the centuries.

But, via sport, the warfare continues and one suspects England may have fired the latest opening salvo yesterday with skills coach, Mike Catt, seemingly thinking aloud – too loudly, ahem – and appearing to offer an insight as to Sunday's guests' tactical approach.

Don't be fooled, boys.

With Manu Tuilagi, England's Western Samoan centre (imperialism in reverse?), having recovered from his ankle injury and the Brad Barritt/Billy Twelvetrees midfield partnership having gone well last weekend against the Scots, one of that trio is going to be disappointed when Stuart Lancaster names his starters.

Tuilagi is a one-dimensional battering ram with Leicester Tigers and Twelvetrees is an ex-Tiger who played in the side humbled 41-7 by Ulster just over a year ago in Belfast.

Barritt is by far the best defensive organiser of the three.

"It is always difficult but it's a great headache to have," Catt said, before appearing to let the cat (no relation) out of the bag when he added: "Defence is across the board. Everybody knows their roles. We need to focus on our attacking game too, which went pretty well against the Scots and try to starve Ireland of the ball so they can't do what they are good at.

"It is a little game of chess we have to try to win."

And there was a little more mental chess with Catt highlighting the Jonny Sexton v Owen Farrell shoot-out at 10.

"I guess a lot of people are going to look at it as a head-to-head thing from a Lions point of view," he said. "Both played exceptionally well last weekend and it is another game for both to put their hands up and say, 'Right, take me on the Lions tour.'

"Owen's mental toughness is exceptional. He is such a focused individual, he is so good at blocking out all the hype and everything that goes with it. He won't worry if it is Dan Carter, Sexton or Ronan O'Gara opposite him."

And as a parting over-the-shoulder shot he let fire with: "You've got to remember where this England team's come from. It's only a year down the line and they're producing some fantastic performances. All credit to them. I think it's remarkable they've got this far."

England were cocky back in 2011, too, I recall. Time enough talking when the game has been won and the chessboard packed away.

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