Following a largely successful 6 Nations campaign, TTT recently caught up with two of the England Rugby coaches, Attack Coach Mike Catt and Forwards Coach Graham Rowntree, to chat about working with the current crop of England players and coaching more generally.
In the first of two blogs, we asked the guys about next steps for the side, particularly looking ahead to the summer tour to New Zealand. Here’s what they had to say …
On Billy Vunipola’s return from injury to play in the recent Heineken Cup quarter-finals
Mike Catt: From our point of view the more and more these guys, especially the young guys – the likes of Billy Vunipola – can be exposed to those big game scenarios, the next step before Internationals, the better and the quicker they are going to develop as rugby players. So we want the English clubs to be successful and Saracens have gone and done that – it’s a massive positive.
For someone like Billy who’s been out for six or seven weeks with his ankle, it’s great that he can get back into that international frame of mind by playing in those big games.
On possible forward combinations for the summer tour and Rugby World Cup
Graham Rowntree: I’ve got a list of players; a big list of players. We’ll narrow it down nearer the time but you have to look quite wide because you’ll always have injuries and you’ll always have selection dilemmas. We have an ongoing EPS and Saxons squad anyway so there’s upwards of 60 players that we’re watching, we speak every week on the phone about the players and how they’re playing and we get round the clubs and speak to the coaches so we know what’s going on.
On managing how much Owen Farrell plays and keeping him fit
MC: I think Saracens have a good rotational policy and he’s a model professional. He’s very good at what he does and is very open and honest with Saracens and vice versa, so if he’s feeling tired they’ll rest him. Saracens look after their players very well.
On the midfield options now that Manu Tuilagi is back to fitness
MC: We’ve got loads of rugby to be played before 2015, like the New Zealand tour, and you’ve also got the likes of Kyle Eastmond being involved – so we’ll be looking at form and injury status, that sort of stuff. When we get hold of them again before the next Internationals we’ll look at all that. We and Stuart will know where they’re at and we’ll pick accordingly. They’re all playing well at the moment so it’s a good dilemma to have.
On players missing the 1st game of the New Zealand tour [to play in the Premiership Final, which we be played just a week before the first summer Test]
GR: We won’t know until late on. We’re looking at a big pool of players all the time with that in mind, right down to the Under-20s. We’re looking to the future and one of the things we’re doing is planning for after the World Cup. What will be, will be. They’re not great cards that we’ve been dealt, but we’ve been dealt them and we’ll get on with it.
One thing we’ve shown in the last couple of years is that we’ll throw guys in if we feel they’re good enough, regardless of age. So, [the situation at the beginning of the tour] is a major, major plus for us. We can have a look at a good group of players. At this point leading up to the World Cup we know the wider group of players we want to work with but over the last four months the group has expanded because people have come in and taken their chance.
On whether an under-strength side can beat New Zealand
GR: Yes, we had a perceived under-strength team that nearly won the 6 Nations Championship. In that case we had new guys we capped. We’re confident now more than ever in the group of players that we’ve got.
On beating the All Blacks in Wellington in 2003
GR: It was a historic night. I’ll never forget Johnno’s comment after the game. When he was asked, “What was going through your mind in the last scrum of the game [when England were down to six men]?”, he replied, “My spine.” It was a famous victory; we dug in that night. We were a tiny bit fortuitous – they missed a few chances – but it was a famous victory and hopefully we can emulate that in the summer.
[On that note] … On what it takes to beat NZ
GR: We’ll have to be on top of our game. We’ve shown significant strides particularly in terms of what the guys are doing with our attacking shape – our ‘running game’ as I like to call it. It’s all got to be at 100% and you have to go over there with confidence and I think we’re doing that more than ever with the group of players we’ve got. We’ve got a young, confident squad with nothing to lose.
On the possibility of Steffon Armitage being picked in the future [given his outstanding form for Toulon]
GR: Our stance [of not picking players from overseas] is quite clear. We want to promote those guys playing in England for obvious reasons and while they are playing well, we’re quite content with that. It’s Steffon’s decision completely [to play his club rugby in France] and I’m comfortable with our stance on the matter.
Our policy won’t change because we’ve got a wider group that is good enough to win the World Cup. And we’re showing that we’re going the right way to do that.
On what position Sam Burgess should play in rugby union
MC: I think he’s got to make that decision himself. We’ve got five other blokes in the centres and the back row that are playing exceptionally well at the moment. We’d like to have an impact [in bringing him up through the game] but very simply he’s got to play the game first and he needs to get up to a certain level. The club that he’s going to [Bath] is a good one for that. Having worked with the likes of Toby Booth, it’s probably one of the best clubs you could go to from a development point of view. Kyle Eastmond has also done exceptionally well there.
Mike Catt and Graham Rowntree were speaking at an event for QBE, the business insurance specialist, who are committed to supporting the development of rugby through the QBE Coaching Club. Visit www.QBErugby.com