Ireland attack coach Mike Catt. Evan Treacy/INPHO
leaders in the field

Ireland's trend-setting attack not about 'pulling rabbits out of the hat'

Mike Catt has implemented the same attack with the Emerging Ireland squad in South Africa.

EVERYWHERE YOU GO in rugby these days, someone is studying the Ireland attack.

As Andy Farrell’s side have won a Triple Crown and beaten the All Blacks in their series over in New Zealand this year, they have continued to play a highly-attractive, highly-effective brand of rugby.

Operating with a 1-3-2-2 framework, Ireland have encouraged huge amounts of interplay between their forwards and backs, with big men like Tadhg Furlong bringing passing skill to the party on top of the usual physical effort expected up front.

So it’s no real surprise that the Irish attack is now studied as best practice around the world. Even in last Friday’s win for Emerging Ireland against the Griquas in South Africa, we saw a team of young Irish players that had only come together a week before operating with hints of the same fluidity as Farrell’s senior side. 

“It’s just the way we do things, I suppose,” is how Ireland attack coach Mike Catt puts it.

Catt is leading the attack on this Emerging trip and the tourists have implemented exactly the same systems, shapes, and plays as the senior Test side. He hopes to see more success in today’s clash with the Pumas in Bloemfontein [KO 4pm Irish time, SuperSport livestream].

“We believe it’s the way the game goes at the moment,” he continues. “It might change a year down the line or whatever. What we’ve been able to do is get the players… you’ve got to remember that it’s been 18, 19 months, nearly two years now that we’ve been in this process.

“I’ve always said that rugby is about decision-making. That’s all we’ve got the players to do. The players are now making good decisions and that’s manipulating a defence. So whichever shape or whatever we put up there, the players have still got the same process to go and make the right decisions at the right time. Ultimately that’s our goal.”

the-irish-team-celebrate-after-the-game Emerging Ireland after beating the Griquas. Steve Haag / INPHO Steve Haag / INPHO / INPHO

Skillful forwards are key to the Irish approach and it’s exciting that the Emerging Ireland squad is packed with youngsters in that mould. As we have seen for years now with the Ireland U20s, young Irish forwards can play.

“We’re not asking them to do something they can’t do,” says Catt. “We’re asking them to stay square and pass the ball three metres. It’s pretty simple and everybody looks at it as if it’s pulling rabbits out of the hat.

“It’s a very simple way that we coach and want the players to do. As long as they understand what they have to do and why we do it, the players then just have to make the right decision on the back of it.”

Catt says it does help that the four Irish provinces now operate with a similar-ish ethos, even if there are clear differences. With Munster moving in a new direction under their new coaching staff, they have joined Leinster, Ulster, and Connacht in asking all of their players to be decision-makers.

“We had Pete Wilkins [the Connacht head coach] on the New Zealand tour with us and he has taken a few things back there,” says Catt.

“What it does is just give a player a little bit of a stepping stone so that when he comes into an Ireland environment, they understand what we’re trying to achieve, how to do it. They’re not trying to catch up from too far away, so they can adapt quicker.

“Yes, it helps us massively but it helps the player to be selected into the Ireland side as well, that’s crucial and that’s going to bring a lot of competition to the squad. Ultimately, that’s what we want – to select the best of the best.” 

Emerging Ireland:

  • 15. Chay Mullins
  • 14. Ethan McIlroy
  • 13. Antoine Frisch
  • 12. Cathal Forde
  • 11. Andrew Smith
  • 10. Jake Flannery
  • 9. Michael McDonald
  • 1. Callum Reid
  • 2. Diarmuid Barron
  • 3. Roman Salonoa
  • 4. Cormac Izuchukwu
  • 5. Brian Deeny
  • 6. Cian Prendergast (captain)
  • 7. John Hodnett
  • 8. James Culhane


  • 16. Dylan Tierney-Martin
  • 17. Josh Wycherley
  • 18. Sam Illo
  • 19. Tom Ahern
  • 20. David McCann
  • 21. Ben Murphy
  • 22. Jack Crowley
  • 23. Shane Daly


  • 15. Devon Williams
  • 14. Jade Stiglingh
  • 13. Sebastiaan de Klerk
  • 12. Wiaan van Niekerk
  • 11. Etienne Taljaard
  • 10. Tinus de Beer (captain)
  • 9. Chriswill September
  • 1. Corné Fourie
  • 2. Eduan Swart
  • 3. Ig Prinsloo
  • 4. Malembe Mpofu
  • 5. Shane Kirkwood
  • 6. Jaco Labuschagne
  • 7. Kwanda Dimaza
  • 8. André Fouché.


  • 16. Llewellyn Classen
  • 17. Etienne Janeke
  • 18. Simon Raw
  • 19. PJ Jacobs
  • 20. Anele Lungisa
  • 21. Khwezi Mafu
  • 22. Franna Kleinhans
  • 23. Givan Snyman
  • 24. Lucky Dlepu
  • 25. Gene Willemse
  • 26. Ali Mgijima
  • 27. Diego Apollis
  • 28. Lundi Msenge

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