Mike Catt, the London Irish attack coach, has emerged as a leading candidate for a similar role with England when they play three Tests in South Africa this summer. If he is given a job the Port Elizabeth-born former England international is sure to back the claims of two young Exiles backs, Tom Homer and Jonathan Joseph, whose performances have been some consolation to Irish’s suffering supporters this season.
Irish lost their seventh successive Premiership game on Saturday but Homer, who has just turned 22 and is the division’s leading scorer, made sure it was not just his bright orange boots that got him recognised. The full-back can unerringly convert penalties from all distances – an asset in the thin air of highveld South Africa – and has the speed to double up as a wing. Joseph is a 20-year-old centre whom Catt has already compared to the young Jeremy Guscott. A runner who glides over the ground, his opportunities against the unyielding defence of England’s champion side were limited but his outside break after half an hour helped lift the game out of the ordinary and set up the first of two tries for Delon Armitage.
Armitage has had a year mired in controversy, five suspensions ending in him being ditched by England in the zero?tolerance policy of the now permanent coach Stuart Lancaster. Catt was critical of Lancaster earlier this year for leaving Armitage out of the England squad, which may not endear him to the head coach, and although the Toulon-bound full-back is a frustrating character, he is a talent.
Toby Booth, the Irish head coach, said: “We had two full-backs in our back three because we know Saracens play a kicking game. Delon showed what a good finisher he is. On both his tries he had a quite a lot to do. And yes, if England are looking for a metronomic kicker they may look at Tom Homer. He is still learning the game and people forget how young he is. But he ticks all the boxes. He’s an attacking threat and he is very safe under the high ball and it would be a bonus for England to have a full-back who can also kick goals.”
The England backs’ coach role has become vacant because of Andy Farrell’s decision last week to stay at Saracens. Farrell’s son Owen, England’s current kicker, was unavailable with a leg injury at Reading – not a handicap to Saracens, for whom Charlie Hodgson landed all of his kicks to score 23 points. Hodgson will be keen to go to South Africa himself.
Saracens remain difficult to beat although their limitations were exposed by Clermont Auvergne a week earlier and, ultimately this victory was forged on forward power. Their second-half try, after Irish had been reduced to 14 men with Jamie Gibson shown a yellow card, came when their young flanker Will Fraser peeled off a rolling maul to crash over.
“We showed a lot of effort out there but ultimately they had a little bit more class in key positions and it told,” said Booth. It has been a tough year for Irish, who last won a Premiership game on 8 January and whose former England centre Shontayne Hape is to see a knee specialist in the United States amid fears that his playing career may be over.
London Irish Homer; Armitage, Joseph, Ansbro, S Tagicakibau (Ojo, 69); Jarvis, Allinson; Corbisiero (capt), Paice (Buckland, 68), Rautenbach (Halavatau, 53), Evans, Garvey, Gibson, Thorpe (Sinclair, 62), Treviranus (Gray, 62).
Tries Armitage 2 Pens Homer 3.
Sin-bin Gibson, 52.
Saracens Goode; Strettle, Wyles, Barritt, M Tagicakibau (Tomkins, 5); Hodgson, De Kock; Gill (Vunipola, 68), Brits (George, 60), Stevens (Nieto, 68), Borthwick (capt), Kruis (Botha, 60), Wray, Fraser, Joubert.
Try Fraser Con Hodgson Pens Hodgson 5 Drop goals Hodgson 2.
Sin-bin Fraser, 72.
Referee M Fox. Attendance 9,473.