Watching Ireland limber up for their customary Friday captain’s run, you’d never have thought that they were a day away from a shot at history, namely a first ever Grand Slam in Lansdowne Road, old or new. Adding to the relaxed atmosphere was the presence, perhaps for the first time ever, of their families. A nice touch.
“St Patrick’s Day helps as all are off school, so it has fallen nicely,” said attack coach Mike Catt after declaring the squad’s clean bill of health. “It’s brilliant having kids here because it has been a long eight weeks ... or is it 12 weeks ... whatever it is now since Portugal. There is a lot of sacrifice that goes in there and great to have families in.”
Catt, who said that the Irish attack has functioned “in dribs and drabs” so far, acknowledged that while they are tapping into a unique set of circumstances. “As a group, we’re not going to get too emotional over the whole thing. It’s a game of rugby and all we’re doing is chasing our potential and making sure that we can be ourselves in this environment.
“It’s about you being the best version of a rugby player that you can possibly be.
“The atmosphere, I think you can feel the buzz in the city already, it’s amazing. You want to be in games like this, you want to be part of big things like this, it’s the reason we do the job and the players do their jobs.
“You’ve got to thrive in this intensity, it’s brilliant.
Further tapping into the feelgood factor has been the presence in camp all week of Garry Ringrose, while a huge part of this week’s narrative is, of course, the potential for a perfect Six Nations farewell from Johnny Sexton.
Catt, who himself played until he was 38, said: “Where do you start? How long have we got? Johnny is Johnny. He’s hopefully going to be the record points scorer tomorrow in terms of points scored in a Six Nations, taking over from ROG.
“His presence and the way he teaches people, and people get to understand why he’s as good as he is through his excellence and his drive to become excellent. And be bloody-minded and hard-headed in terms of playing to his potential, chasing his potential every single session.
“Players have really thrived on the back of that and learned a lot from Johnny on the back of that. What it means for him to play for his country is huge, he epitomises the whole thing.
“So, he’s a great leader, he’s got an amazing knowledge of the game. Working with Johnny, you can let him go and he can run the show. It’s just making sure he puts the best performance in tomorrow because that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about Johnny and his last game or last captain’s run. It’s about the performance of the team which is crucial for us tomorrow.”
Asked if Sexton and Jonny Wilkinson were similar, Catt laughed and said: “Yeah. They’re both obsessive!”
Describing them as “completely different mental animals” from other players, Catt said: “They’re so in the moment, they’re so in the game. They’re deep thinkers of the game and it’s bringing that freedom out of them so they can go and perform that’s the crucial thing.
“But how they make people feel around them is what they’re very, very good at as well. When you stand next to a Jonny Wilkinson or a Johnny Sexton, inside or outside of him, you feel pretty special.”
Opposing Sexton will be Owen Farrell, and the English captain was a little surprised, if amused, to learn from the media that his son Tommy was at the Irish captain’s run.
“I didn’t know that, I genuinely didn’t know that,” he said, laughing.
Farrell’s sons Tommy (four) and Freddie (two) are staying with him mum, Colleen, at their grandparents’ home in Sandymount.
Asked if he needed to have a word with his two boys, Farrell said: “They’re a bit young yet. They’re just doing as their grandad’s told them to. They’re staying at their grandad’s house, so I guess it’s his rules this weekend, so far.
“Of course they have got England shirts and my brother, he has got both, I don’t think my sisters have got them both,” added Farrell, reflecting the conflictions afflicting the Farrell family this weekend.
As to what his boys will be wearing tomorrow, the English captain said: “I have not spoken about it. They came over yesterday on the ferry and they are staying at their grandad’s house. He is not there – they are staying with my mum. I assume and I do still assume that they will be wearing England jerseys but I see they are trying to sway him.”
Josh van der Flier will win his 50th cap on Saturday and Catt also confirmed: “Garry Ringrose presented him with a jersey in front of the team. Standard. A few nice words from one nice person to another nice person.”
And another nice touch.