Mike Catt on Irelands tour to South Africa

Mike Catt on Irelands tour to South Africa

The sign above the entrance to the Loftus Versfeld pitch reminds players they are 1350 metres above sea level and that “It matters” but Ireland attack coach Mike Catt does not believe a word of that.

The South Africa-born England World Cup winner will fly with Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad to Johannesburg on Tuesday ahead of the first Test against the back-to-back world champion Springboks at the legendary Pretoria stadium on Saturday week. And as the Munster contingent in the touring party will attest, altitude need not matter.

They beat the Bulls at Loftus in late April, the first Irish province to win there, while last Saturday’s URC Grand Final saw Glasgow Warriors also upset the odds and beat the home side to lift the trophy.

That is certainly Catt’s mindset as he prepares for his final tour of duty as a member of Farrell’s coaching staff. During the first week of camp at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Abbottstown, west Dublin, he has been sharing his methods and systems with his successor, Leinster’s Andrew Goodman, who will be in place ahead of November’s Autumn Nations Series of Tests.

On Monday, though, he faced the media and was asked about the altitude factor.

“There won’t be any at all,” Catt said. “What did Glasgow do? Don’t make something that’s not.

“If you dwell on something people are going to get worried by it… whenever you put on an Irish shirt, whoever you are playing against, it is hard, it’s tough, you have got to take yourself to a dark side.

“It is no different when we turn up in Loftus on June 6. You have to take yourself to a level and that’s the challenge, can you take yourself to a level where you are thinking correctly, you are making your decisions in the heat of the battle. It is the same for both sides too.

“If you are talking about altitude not everyone plays at altitude in South Africa, so don’t worry about it.”

Catt was also giving recent pot-stirring comments from Springbok double world cup winners Eben Etzebeth, Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe short shrift. Second-row enforcer Etzebeth accused the Irish of arrogance in an interview, claiming that at the end of the two nations’ World Cup pool meeting at Stade de France last September 23, won by Ireland, half of Farrell’s squad had said to him “see you in the final”, despite facing a quarter-final against New Zealand.

Former Munster centre de Allende predicted a war in the forthcoming two-Test series while Kolbe took exception to claims that Ireland were the best team in the world rather than the Boks.

“There's been a lot of talk about Ireland deserving to win the World Cup,” Kolbe said. "We'll see in July."

Catt does not see those or any other comments being a factor for the tourists in South Africa.

“No. It doesn’t matter. It’s great for the game and great for the hype, and you guys love it and everybody loves that but from our point of view it’s business as usual. You can’t dwell on all those things. You don’t use it.

“We know what we need to do to go to South Africa and try and win a series. That’s all it is. All the white noise on the side of it doesn’t even come into it. We know where we’re going and the players have to get to a certain level to get there. So we’ll focus on the stuff we can control ultimately.”

The attack coach is, however, under no illusions about the size of the task facing Ireland if they are to go one better than their last tour to South Africa in 2016, when they won a Test there for the first time, in Cape Town, but lost the series 2-1 with defeats in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.

Rugby in South Africa, he said, is “huge”.

“It’s the number one sport in the country, everybody plays it, every school plays it. It’s religious. They’ve got a huge job on their hands to keep inspiring their nation and over the past 15 or 20 years or whatever they’ve done a pretty good job on the back of it.

“So mentally tough, physically very tough, we’re fully aware of what’s coming and we’ve played them recently so it’s going to be an awesome challenge.

“It’s a huge challenge, they are world champions in their own backyard but it’s embracing it and enjoying it; a series win in South Africa has never been done before. So again, that is another challenge for this team, the coaches, the backroom staff.

"Yeah, it is awesome, it is exciting. Let’s go and face it head on.”


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