By Ed Elliot, PA, Dublin
Mike Catt believes Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton is similar to his former England team-mate Jonny Wilkinson in being a “completely different mental animal”.
Sexton will look to sign off a stellar Six Nations career in style by leading his country to the Grand Slam with a St Patrick’s weekend victory over England in Dublin.
The 37-year-old, who is set to retire following the autumn World Cup in France, can also become the championship’s outright all-time leading points scorer during Saturday’s swansong after drawing level with Ronan O’Gara’s tally of 557 last weekend.
Ireland assistant coach Catt lifted the 2003 World Cup alongside Wilkinson and feels there are plenty of parallels between the two fly-halves named Jonathan.
“They’re both obsessive, they’re just completely different mental animals,” Catt said of Sexton and Wilkinson.
“They’re so in the moment, they’re so in the game. Everything means a hell of a lot.
“They’re deep thinkers of the game and it’s bringing that freedom out of them, so they can go and perform that’s the crucial thing.
“But how they make people feel around them is what they’re very, very good at as well.
“When you stand next to a Jonny Wilkinson or a Johnny Sexton, you feel pretty special.
“There are a lot of comparisons in there but ultimately you’ve got to deliver on the hype on the big stage and both Johnny’s have done that. Let’s see what Johnny can do tomorrow.”
England clinched the 2003 Grand Slam at Lansdowne Road before Wilkinson and Catt went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Australia eight months later.
Andy Farrell’s Ireland have similar ambitions this year and Catt believes the progression of the world’s top-ranked team has “gripped the nation”.
“It’s going to be a great weekend,” said Catt.
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“I think the fans have been amazing, the way the boys have played has definitely gripped the nation in terms of the success we’ve had over the past year.
“But, as a group, we’re not going to get too emotional over the whole thing.”
England arrived in Ireland on Thursday having been stung by a record-breaking Twickenham humiliation at the hands of France which emphatically wiped them out of title contention.
Catt is wary of an “exceptionally dangerous” visiting team packed with “proper X factor” players and singled out the strength of Steve Borthwick’s backs, including wing Henry Arundell, who will make his full Test debut.
“We’re massively respectful of that side, especially from a backline point of view,” said Catt.
“There’s no way we’re thinking anything other than it’s going to be a tough, tough Test match.
“They’ve got some proper X factor and I think Arundell is one of those players that we haven’t seen a massive amount of but, if he gets the ball, he can cause absolute chaos.
“They are exceptionally dangerous across the board and we’re well aware of that.”