Catt: England far from the finished article
MIKE Catt believes it is "incredible" that England are even being talked of in a Grand Slam context just 13 months after head coach Stuart Lancaster began his rebuilding project.
England will tighten their grip on the RBS 6 Nations title and tee up a shot at a first Grand Slam in a decade if they can extend their unbeaten record against Italy tomorrow.
England's average victory over the Azzurri at Twickenham is 48-11 and two years ago they ran in eight tries, with Chris Ashton scoring four in a thumping 59-13 victory.
Catt, the attacking skills coach, would rejoice if England could repeat that performance before going on to tackle Wales at the Millennium Stadium for a slice of history.
But he cautioned against expecting another Twickenham rout.
"This is a massive eight days for these guys," Catt said.
"When you look at where this team has come from, it is incredible. A year ago you wouldn't have thought we would be in this position.
"This team is far from being the finished article. You are expecting six or seven tries tomorrow - we have only been together for a year.
"That expectation is there and it is brilliant. We are creating it with our performances but international rugby doesn't always go that way.
"We want to make sure we are clinical, that we have the composure to do what we want to do and what people expect us to do.
"But you have got to be mindful of the fact that this Italian side is not the Italian side of 10 years ago. They are a hell of a side at the moment.
"If we have to kick every penalty to win games we will take that, because that is what the opposition allows you to do."
Wales' victory over Scotland today means they are the only side who can mathematically deny England a second title in three seasons and the Grand Slam.
Lancaster's men head into the Italy game with the points difference of plus seven over Wales. Another big win over the Azzurri could virtually secure them the crown.
But England captain Chris Robshaw continued Catt's pragmatic theme, vowing not to get distracted by trying to boost their points-difference.
"It is a very exciting time but I have been in a couple of situations before where stuff like that could have, should have happened and it hasn't," Robshaw said.
"First and foremost you want to go out there and win. As soon as you start talking about winning by a certain amount it can put you off your game and the momentum can swing very quickly."
England took their attacking game to new levels as they opened their Six Nations campaign with a comprehensive victory over Scotland at Twickenham.
The wins against Ireland and France were founded more on character, high-pressure defence, game management and kicking penalties but they also left plenty for England to work on.
In many ways, that is the ideal scenario for Lancaster's management team ahead of a game against Italy, where all the expectation is for a routine home win.
"We had a really good start against Scotland, played some really good rugby and probably left four or five tries out there," Catt said.
"Against Ireland we kicked ourselves to victory on the back of a really dogged defensive performance. You can't underestimate what France brought.
"They were both massive, massive wins. But we spoke after the France game about our accuracy and the players were pretty harsh on themselves.
"It was a huge win but I was disappointed about things that didn't go our way. We have to make sure we get those right."
And Robshaw is determined to get them right from the outset and not allow Italy to set the tempo, as France did in the first half at Twickenham two weekends ago.
"It is easy when you have won to brush things away but it is about being hard on yourself as well to keep moving forward," Robshaw said.
"We were a little bit slow coming out of the blocks against France. We had a lucky escape over in Italy last year with a second-half comeback.
"We can't take this side lightly. We need to come out with all guns blazing. They are passionate and confrontational. It should be an exciting game."