Ireland attack coach ‘I see huge things for Hugo, he’s got a great future’ – Mike Catt backs new boy Keenan to thrive for Ireland
Ireland attack coach Mike Catt is backing all four debutants to hit the ground running against Italy tomorrow.
And the England World Cup winner believes winger Hugo Keenan has huge potential as an international rugby player after capitalising on his opportunity at Leinster to secure his spot in the side for the first time.
Keenan and his provincial team-mate Will Connors make their debuts from the start tomorrow, with Jamison Gibson-Park and Ed Byrne also in line for their first caps off the bench.
“All of them have settled in very well, an environment where they can come in and be themselves,” Catt said at a pre-match press conference at the Aviva Stadium.
“Andy (Farrell)'s very much created that and really drives that side of it.
“All the players are there on form.
“Hugo has this unselfish want to chase the ball, his kick-chase, he's unbelievably quick, unbelievably fit, and he's settled in very, very well.
“So I see huge things for him, he's got a huge future.
“And very excited about Jabber (Gibson-Park) as well, the way we want to play at No 9, he's exceptionally quick to every breakdown, and he gets the ball away and gets good width on the pass as well.
“Will and Ed have obviously played very well for Leinster.
“Will's been that amazing chop tackler that's given blokes around him the opportunity to get on that ball, and again his work-rate is relentless.
“So for us these young guys coming in, these first cappers, these are the ones that are going to drive this team as well.
“I think Will's very underrated in terms of his handling ability, it's never really been used with the Leinster way.
“Again he's exceptionally quick into breakdowns, not just defensively, attacking-wise too.
“And he's got a real understanding of the game.
“He's a good ball carrier who generates quick ball pretty much every time he carries, with his low steps and his drive through the tackle.
“So for us we don't just see him as a chop tackler, we see him as he fits into the way we want the game to be played.
“And he's been exceptional for Leinster at that.”
A former assistant coach for Italy, Catt has been impressed by what he’s seen of their new out-half Paolo Garbisi who is making only his fourth senior appearance in professional rugby.
“I’ve only seen a little bit about him,” he said of the Benetton man. “He looked exceptionally impressive especially against Leinster a couple of weeks ago, he looks very composed in that environment.
“I know we've spoken about him over the past couple of years, but I'd never really seen him perform.
“He's another huge left footer, so him having him at 10, Canna at 12 and Hayward as well, you've got your left and your right footed kickers which helps their exit strategy so we've got to be aware of that.
“I've loved how he's attacked the line, he's aggressive when he attacks the line, he sees the space very quickly, so I think he's going to be very good given time.”
He’s expecting Italy to ask questions of Ireland up front and out wide.
“They've picked a big pack, their back-row is big, Jake Polledri has been playing exceptionally well for Gloucester,” he said.
“So generating quick ball, playing with the width they always have since Franco (Smith) has taken over, it's very much a wide-wide game.
“They scored some brilliant tries against France playing that way, so it's making sure that we understand how we need to defend that.
“They want to throw the ball around, Violi is very experienced at nine, a very good passer of the ball, Garbisi's a very good passer of the ball, Canna's a good passer of the ball.
“So they will definitely get that ball to the width, so it's just about making sure we can shut it down.”
As for Ireland’s attack, Catt believes there is more to come.
“Andy's way of playing is about speed of ball, about how quickly we can get back into position an really put the defence under pressure,” he said.
“So I don't think that's going to change, but with the new laws this is the first time we've worked with them as a coaching team, the players are obviously more used to that, so it's just about making sure we can tie in enough defenders to create the space for us to go out and do what we're good at.”