Mike Catt challenges Ireland to end 2020 on a high

Assistant coach Mike Catt admits it is time for Ireland to show their true potential on the pitch and go into the winter break on the back of “something pretty special”.

The Irish have the opportunity to end an inconsistent 2020 in positive fashion during Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup finale against Scotland.

Andy Farrell’s maiden year as head coach has included two defeats to England and one against France, while last weekend’s underwhelming win over Georgia raised further doubts about the team’s progress.

  • Ireland 19-12 Scotland (Six Nations)

  • Ireland 24-14 Wales (Six Nations)

  • England 24-12 Ireland (Six Nations)

  • Ireland 50-17 Italy (Six Nations)

  • France 35-27 Ireland (Six Nations)

  • Ireland 32-9 Wales (Autumn Nations Cup)

  • England 18-7 Ireland (Autumn Nations Cup)

  • Ireland 23-10 Georgia (Autumn Nations Cup)

  • Ireland v Scotland (Autumn Nations Cup)

After an experimental period, a strong side showing six changes from the limp performance against the Lelos will take on Gregor Townsend’s men in Dublin.

Catt is confident the players know what is required and challenged them to produce a performance to remember.

“Everybody is very, very clear what Andy wants from the players tomorrow, so we look forward to it,” he said.

“Every opportunity is a privilege to play for your country. The group of players that are running out tomorrow need to make sure that what we’ve done over the past seven, eight weeks as a group we put into play now.

“We’ve seen some new faces on the international scene over the past seven, eight weeks. A little bit of injury, chopping and changing, trying different combinations.

“Hopefully tomorrow we can really cement what we are about as a group and go out and play the way we want to play.

“We need to make sure we show real intent in everything we have learnt. We are very disappointed about last weekend across the board.

“This is an opportunity to go into a Christmas break on the back of something pretty special.”

Captain Johnny Sexton and centre Robbie Henshaw return from two-match injury layoffs, while Bundee Aki and forwards Cian Healy, Peter O’Mahony, and Caelan Doris have also been recalled.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, who scored the opening try in February's win over Scotland, is set to return from injury
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, who scored the opening try in February's win over Scotland, is set to return from injury

Ireland’s trio of losses this year, combined with some patchy performances, has led to question marks about the team’s on-field leadership.

Lock James Ryan has captained his country for the past two games – an 18-7 loss at Twickenham and the 23-10 win over Georgia – during the absence of veteran fly-half Sexton.

Catt accepts Ireland’s players could improve their accountability during games.

Yet, while he believes verbal altercations between team-mates are sometimes necessary, he feels composure must be maintained.

“When you talk about peer pressure, peer pressure is driven by the players and it’s something we need to get better at, I think,” said the 49-year-old, who won the 2003 World Cup with England.

“But in the same breath, for us to play a game at international level, you have to be calm, you have to be patient and stay in the moment.

“People screaming and shouting at each other – there’s a place for it on a training pitch every now and again – but, at the moment, we’re still learning, we’re still trying to get to a place where we can execute things, and you have to be in the right frame of mind to do that.

“The players definitely hold themselves accountable but it’s something I suppose we could be a little bit better on.

“It’s very easy with people making mistakes to scream and shout about it but it’s being controlled, being composed and moving on to the next thing.”

Scotland crossed the Irish Sea having won just five of the past 24 meetings between the countries, with their solitary Dublin success during that time coming a decade ago.

Ireland were 19-12 winners against Scotland in February
Ireland were 19-12 winners against Scotland in February

Catt anticipates a bruising encounter, similar to Ireland’s narrow 19-12 Six Nations success in February.

“They have played exceptionally well over the past four, five weeks,” he said.

“They’ve been physical in the breakdown – they’ve been talking about that as well – so we need to make sure we get parity there. But it is always a big physical battle.

“They came over here in February and it was a big physical battle.

“We don’t expect anything less tomorrow and hopefully the conditions will allow us to play some good flowing rugby. “