What do you make of the Sevens? Brilliant, I think it should have been in the Olympics – it’s such a spectator sport. It’s proved itself in the Commonwealth Games, Hong Kong and especially in Dubai. The turnout is consistently amazing and the players enjoy what they’re doing. It’s also great to watch some of the youngsters progressing through the age groups.
How does Sevens fit into the world game? The Sevens is very much a stepping stone for some of the young guys, and is something of a platform for players who are not suitable for the 15 game. Those who have individual brilliance, but lack certain other skills for the 15 game can really shine on the Sevens circuit. Look at Fijian player Waisale Serevi.
You announced your retirement from the game last year following your contribution to England’s second-place finish in the World Cup. Why did you decide to end it there? I looked across in that final at Francois Steyn [South African rugby player] who was 16 years my junior, and saw that he was physically a lot bigger than I was. Immediately, I thought: What a time to go out. I’ve achieved every accolade I wanted to at International level: I won a World Cup, I’ve captained England. It was a good time to finish.
You’ve had one of the longest running careers at international level, playing in the World Cup final at 36. How was it watching new players come up in that time? It was quite tough for me to stomach an 18- or 19-year-old, who had just come out of school to join a club, being paid £40,000 [Dhs234,000] without achieving anything. But now, as a coach, I’ve come to understand that if your club doesn’t pay it someone else will.
How has the game changed since you started? The guys are now a lot bigger and stronger at a younger age. But that can also means your career is going to be a little bit shorter. I only started weights at 24, whereas Johnny Wilkinson started at 18. I’m breaking down at 36, he’s breaking down at 28. That 10-year block of putting your body through those physical pressures definitely takes its toll.
What was it like to scoop that 2003 World Cup win? Prior to that World Cup I hadn’t been in the England setup for 18 months. I literally got pulled in days before they left for Australia, so for me to be involved in that squad was awesome. To achieve the ultimate goal before you retire is very special.
England finished as runners up in last year’s World Cup, but the competition opened with a disastrous 36-0 defeat against South Africa. What happened? I think it’s the same old thing really. We had a couple of injuries that disrupted us and really we didn’t have the structure in place, we didn’t know what we were doing and where we were going. It was only after that loss against South Africa that we sat down as a group and decided how we were going to play. We came away from that knowing what we wanted to achieve. It was really just a half-hour meeting that brought us together. Once you tell people where to go, it means they’re accountable to be in that position at that time and that’s where the personal onus comes in.
Steve Borthwick has been put in the England captain slot for the autumn internationals (to be played against the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand). How do you think he’ll fare? He’s a very good leader, he’s got a hell of a work ethic off the pitch and is very professional in everything he does. I think [forwards coach] John Wells will have him in there, purely because he’ll be able to control the lineout, he’s got the brains and is a good lineout jumper. It’s going to take time, so let’s hope they get off to a cracking start.
What do you think of England’s chances in these Internationals? I do think England have got the players to beat these sides but, if I’m realistic about it, it’s going to be a hard set to beat. I think they’ll do well against the Pacific Islanders, but the New Zealand and Australian sides are going to face a new England squad with a new set-up. The fans and the press have got to give [manager] Martin Johnson time.
Who is this Catt?
Capped 75 times for the England squad, South African-born Mike Catt was part of the squad that took England to their World Cup win in 2003. Catt announced his retirement in October 2007 following England’s World Cup final defeat against South Africa, a game that earned him the accolade of being the oldest player to ever play in a rugby World Cup final. He has since taken on a player-coach role for English team, London Irish.