‘People can say what they want, it means nothing to us’ – Ireland coach Mike Catt opts against war of words with Springboks

Ireland assistant coach Mike Catt has welcomed the ‘healthy’ simmering rivalry with the Springboks ahead of Saturday week’s first of two summer Tests in South Africa.

Catt insisted that Ireland would block out ‘all the white noise’ that has been coming out of the South African camp of late, as they prepare for a tough challenge at the home of the back-to-back World Cup champions.

Several of the Boks’ high-profile players such as Eben Etzebeth, Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe have upped the ante by making various claims in the media, including branding Ireland as ‘arrogant’, but Catt shrugged it off and opted against adding fuel to the fire.

Catt, who is set to depart the Ireland setup following the tour, said that the escalating war of words would have no bearing on the outcome of the games in Pretoria on July 6 and Durban the following week on July 13.

“For us it’s not a problem,” Catt said.

“People can say what they want, it means nothing to us, it’s something we don’t particularly worry about.

“Let them keep talking, it’s not a problem. It doesn’t fuel anything, it doesn’t make it any or worse. We know exactly what we need to do to go down there and be successful.

“The rivalry’s been good, that’s what you want at Test level, it’s why you play the game. We’ve been pretty successful over the past three times we’ve played them, they’re chomping at the bit.

“There’s been a lot said in the press and this and that, it’s getting rid of all the white noise, what’s important for us is to put in a hell of a performance, and go and challenge to win a series down in South Africa.

“It’s healthy, you want that rivalry. You want that – not hatred – but whatever it is that stirs it all up. It’s good.”

All 35 players included in Andy Farrell’s squad are set to train in Dublin today, with Ireland due to travel to Johannesburg on Wednesday.

“There might be a few off feet still, but nobody is serious, they will all be training fully today,” Catt continued.

“We have got no injury concerns at the moment, so we have a fully fit squad at the moment.

“We got the boys in for two days last week, really good two days, getting them back up to speed with the way we want to play and getting them back into the mindset that we need to go and perform at our best to win a series down in South Africa.”

Catt was adamant that the players did not need to be picked up following a disappointing finish to the provincial season.

“For us it was fine, we got an extra two days to perform,” he maintained.

“So, get over it and let’s get up and go again. I think you have to understand that this squad has been around a long time now. They fully understand, as do the coaches, what it’s about.

“You don’t dwell, you don’t mope around, you get on with it and like I say, the challenge is real for us, so it’s about making sure we put our best foot forward and go and perform.

“Get over what’s happened in the past and let’s go and do it.”

Catt, who coaches Ireland’s attack along with Farrell, acknowledged that Jamison Gibson-Park’s injury-enforced absence was a blow for the South Africa tour, but he does not foresee the game-plan changing, as Conor Murray, Craig Casey and Caolin Blade battle it out for the two spots in the match-day squad, while he hailed young out-half Sam Prendergast’s exciting potential.

“What we have got is Craig and Mur and Bladey that has come in again. These guys have been around camp for the past three, four years or 12 or 15 years whatever Mur has been around,” Catt said.

It simply provides those other guys another chance to solidify their position moving ahead; it won’t alter the way we do things.

“Sam has done incredibly well in his 20s; he has done well when playing for Leinster. Once more, I believe he has enormous potential and a very high ceiling, and we have only just begun to explore it. He is incredibly thrilling.

“Again, having someone like Frawls in there with such a high skill level is great, but he also enters the game because he can cover a wide range of spots if you look at going to a 6/2 bench..

“There is a good combination, and three or four players who we can choose from, so it’s a healthy environment.”

As for where a first series win in South Africa would rank for this team, Catt added: “Well it’s never been done before.

“We haven’t spoken about it, whether it gets spoken about today it might be the case, but we went down to New Zealand to push ourselves to do a feat that has never been accomplished before. I believe that we will face world champions in South Africa in a similar circumstance.

“There is a great deal of hype.” It’s quite thrilling. We recognize that this will be a difficult task, but we’re willing to accept it and move on.

“Every time you put on a green jersey, in my opinion, is really significant. The country is inspired by you.

“Andy and the team have performed incredibly well in doing that, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that we continue at that high standard and encourage young children to play the game as well as the rest of the country to support us.”

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