Nathan Catt Interview: 'The objective is to make world-class scrummagers for the Red Roses'

Catt's attention to detail and passion for development will only help the Red Roses elevate themselves to an even greater level
©JMP via RFU Collection

The Guinness Women’s Six Nations has had a feeling of familiarity about it in recent years: England play, England win.

One of the best rugby sides to ever do it, the Red Roses haven’t lost in the competition since their last-minute heartbreaker vs France on March 10th, 2018.

This year, however, change is aplenty as England head into the tournament under the stewardship of new head coach John Mitchell, having spent the last eight with Simon Middleton at the helm.

Indicative of the Red Roses’ insatiable appetite for success, for the first time, they will be joined by a specialist scrum coach in Nathan Catt. 

Catt, a loosehead prop who played 170 times for Bath over a 12-year career, took a bespoke position within the RFU in November 2023 as a specialist pathway scrum coach, a role that is primarily responsible for the England U20s and Red Roses scrums.

Speaking to Catt, it is immediately apparent that his love for scrummaging knows no bounds. He is hoping his lifelong love affair with this element of the game - as well as his recent success with the Men’s Under-20s - can permeate into Mitchell’s squad.

“We want to get the ladies loving scrummaging”, said Catt. “The objective is to make world-class scrummagers for the Roses.

Given the Red Roses' recent record - they've won 33 of their last 34 Tests - it's a revered atmosphere where world-class standards are demanded, making Catt's job description quite variable compared to the longer timelines afforded to his work with the Under-20s.

“For the women’s side, it’s different because [making world-class scrummagers] has to be sooner, that’s not a seven-year project”, says Catt.

“Success is how we can control the scrum, how we can apply force to control the scrum. Then working your way down again through the women’s pathway, the same objective is to make world-class scrummagers for the Roses.”

Nonetheless, Catt's track record shows an ability to work to a short timeline. His involvement in the England set-up began in September 2023 when he coached in a specialist front five set-piece camp, an initiative that is already bearing fruit with the Men’s U20s clinching the Six Nations title last week.

And those camps are features that Catt is hoping to replicate in his new role: "There will be more. We want to try and put some together on the women's side, we want them to love scrummaging.

"I've had chats with Louis Deacon [Red Roses forwards coach] around what we want to deliver from the scrum, what success looks like which means we can plan and deliver our objective from the scrums."

Those plans revolve around an appetite for constant improvement, which has become a necessity for an England side that is consistently on an upward curve despite struggling for regular, meaningful, competition in recent years.

"I've met with a few of the players", said Catt. "They're doing pretty well, but can it be better? Yeah of course. It's sport. Nothing's ever perfect.

"For me, it's about trying to make smaller changes, smaller adjustments. There's no big fixes. Hopefully a lot of tweaking, and getting those small margins.”

To etch out those extra percentage points, the former England Saxon has been given free rein by the RFU to cater his expertise for each player through cultivated gym programmes and one-to-one sessions.

"On the women's side, we've got those players so we can be more specific on each individual's needs. You get a bit more time with them", Catt adds.

"I've had calls with the S&C and put together all the players' strength profiles. We're trying to tie into strength and conditioning to make sure everything we're giving to these players is around maximising what they need individually and that's going to then help us collectively as a team.

"If, for example, someone can't squat to range that's going to affect their ability to scrummage in the shapes we want them to. That then becomes part of their gym programme if that makes sense?”

The level of detail available to experienced heads like Hannah Botterman down to uncapped players such as Lizzie Hanlon is pioneering, as evident in Catt's explanation of how he might personalise a prop's gym programme.

"It might be then 'Okay, we're going to go in the gym and we're going to put a load of bands on, or start off with some barbell rollouts'. It's just about working your chest out so the whole time they're keeping pressure on the bar, flat back and then you can start to apply some bands so they've got some resistance. You can then add a neck isolation in as well.

"Let's say they're struggling with, as a loosehead, their bind and they're dropping it, you can make them hold a band, hold their arm up, then you apply pressure. It's just about layering on to where they currently are. Making sure they're stretched and challenged, as applicable to where they are on their journey.”

In terms of Catt’s individual work, the detail gets even finer: "I try and break the scrum down into four components. I break it into your set-up, your bind phase, the engage, and then ‘ball in’ so you've got four components.]

"I watch them, recorded it, then we'd spend say 10 minutes tweaking around their set-up, almost like producing a new way with a couple of tweaks.

"I then try and get them to set up again, so hopefully they can say 'I'm closer to my spirit level spine, I'm closer to my 90/90', and then get them to verbalise what they've done to allow them to get to that point.

"So they've got a first video of where their old way is, then they've got a video of what they've practiced, then they've got a verbal video of how they've got there. Then they can then refer back to it."

It is this level of professionalism that will allow the Red Roses - and the programme as a whole - to evolve even further.

A new era will begin on Saturday with Mitchell taking charge of his first Six Nations game as head coach of England but behind the scenes, the world’s number one side are leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of further glory.