London Irish set for major change as Catt departs

London Irish Director of Rugby Brian Smith confirmed this morning that the Exiles will be overhauling their backroom staff this summer, reducing their numbers from 21 to 13, freeing up an estimated £700,000 towards next season’s salary cap which the club will use fully up to the limit.

The club confirmed earlier this morning that backs coach Mike Catt would leave the club at the end of the season, temporarily to work with England as their interim backs coach, a position which Smith believes he could take on full time.

“He’s got a chance to impress out in South Africa and I’m sure he’ll do that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Catty is offered a permanent role if the tour goes well. He’s very good technically, I’ve always joked that in my four years with England I was keeping the seat warm for him. He’s a World Cup winner and he’s got the potential to be one of the coaches for 2015. I made him captain when he arrived here, he’s gone on to be an outstanding coach and whenever England have come calling, this club has always done the right thing.”

With the proposed backroom changes, there has been speculation over the future of defence coach Justin Bishop and Academy Manager Neil Hatley, who has been linked with a move to Bath to link up with Gary Gold. Smith said that if there was a possibility for Hatley to become a Premiership forwards coach they would fully support him, but for now there was nothing more than rumours until Bath finalised their Director of Rugby position.

“We haven’t made any decision on Justin. We’re reviewing all of our structures. When I was here last there was a staff of 8 and now there’s a staff of 21, which is unsustainable. We need to get that down to a more manageable number, because it was starting to impact on how much we spent on players. We’re diverting £700,000 towards players as a result, so we’ll be reaching the limit of the salary cap and the players are delighted with that. We’ll also make sure that we support them with a great medical and conditioning team.”

Looking ahead, with the increased financial support from the cuts the club plan to announce two, possibly three more signings, with one announced tomorrow morning and hopefully another fly-half announced before the end of the week. The club’s outgoing list – Casey, Kennedy, Delon Armitage and Dan Bowden to name just four – is significant but Smith is happy with the recruitment made so far, particularly with new half backs Tomás O’Leary and Shane Geraghty. The future for Smith, who has been back at the club for a month, is also very exciting.

“It’s great to be back because I feel really comfortable here. We’ve got some challenges ahead of us and there’s been some bumpy water behind the scenes trying to get everything sorted. But the players are excited about next season and so am I.”

by Ben Coles