Rugby World Cup 2019: ‘Kamikaze kids’ Tom Curry and Sam Underhill can trigger a new age for England

Jones may revel in having two flankers who 'hit everything that moves' but his actual hope for Saturday's Test is to see a back-row combination that can bring England into the modern game

Jack de Menezes
Friday 23 August 2019 07:02
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Eddie Jones hoping Kamikaze kids Curry and Underhill will be fit to face Ireland

Labelled yesterday “the Kamikaze kids”, it is easy to see why Eddie Jones wants Sam Underhill and Tom Curry to disrupt Ireland’s gameplan to the point of destruction. Individually they have proven themselves to be the most naturally-gifted openside flankers that England have been able to call on since Neil Back, swapping the No 7 shirt between themselves where injury and opportunity has presented itself.

But together? What can they achieve together? The answer, it is hoped, will be delivered on Saturday when they start together in the back-row two weeks later than planned. Jones had been keen to see what his two apex opensides could do together against Wales, only for a toe injury to rule Underhill out for two weeks and force Curry back into the No 7 shirt, with the Sale forward then injuring his shoulder himself 29 minutes into the Twickenham victory over the Welsh.

Thankfully for them neither injury proved serious, and a fortnight later they have once again been pencilled in to line up together with Billy Vunipola in the back-row against Ireland tomorrow – providing they come through England’s final full training session today.

It’s what lead Jones to give them their new moniker: “Because they hit everything. They hit everything that moves. Off the pitch they’re nice public schoolboys!”

But on the pitch, they are a daunting prospect. Curry has earned rave reviews over the last 14 months, most notably from South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus after last year’s summer tour and then again in the Six Nations earlier this year. Between that, it was Underhill who shone bright, with his performances in the autumn internationals – most notably against the All Blacks – standing out while his try-saving tackle against Wales last year remains a career high point any rugby professional would want on their CV.

Each time one of them has appeared to do enough to make the shirt their own though, injury has interfered. Underhill has suffered a long-term toe injury previously as well as a lengthy concussion lay-off, while Curry saw his breakthrough delayed due to a dislocated wrist in the autumn on 2017 and a serious ankle injury saw him miss the bulk of the 2018 mid-season internationals.

But there is an X-factor about both players that has Jones determined to pair them up in the hope that it follows a trend that is emerging worldwide. Australia have Michael Hooper and David Pocock, New Zealand have recently deployed Ardie Savea with Sam Cane, and in Wales where once Justin Tipuric lined up with Sam Warburton, now he looks set to unite with Josh Navidi. The double-openside is in vogue, and Jones knows why,

“What I see is a change in the way the game is being refereed,” the England head coach said. “There is a lot more contest in the breakdown. The tackler is being allowed to stay in the tackle which means the ability to poach has increased.

“I think that this is potentially an option for us because Curry is definitely big enough to play six. He is not a small lad, he is not a fetcher, so this is a realistic option for us.

“It is good news because the way the laws are being interpreted at the moment allows for a strong contest. Whether that changes for the World Cup, it doesn’t appear to be during these warm-up games, so we want to make sure we are well-cooked to play that sort of game.

“It just appears to be the case at the moment. We’re asking ‘is this a strategic move by World Rugby for the World Cup?’ and the answer is we don’t know. We’ll just have to adapt and find out. What we want to be able to do is pick teams who can cope with this, if it’s going to be two people over the ball every breakdown. We want to be able to do the same thing.”

Sam Underhill (left) and Tom Curry (centre) will play together for the first time

But there is something special about Curry. While Underhill is the elder by two years at 23 and possesses slightly more caps in 17 to Curry’s 11, Jones is particularly excited by what the future holds for England’s bright young thing.

“I haven’t seen that much of him. I’ve seen him play some club rugby and he’s been okay, but what I see on the training pitch is a guy who is progressing rapidly,” said Jones.

“Physically, for a 20-year-old, he is incredible. I haven’t seen a player like him. He’s strong, fast, he’s got aggressive attitude and he wants to learn. He’s going to get better and better every day.”

That impression is rubbing off on his teammates too – most notably captain Owen Farrell. “For someone who’s such a young age to be in the position he is and to have the effect bench that he has done is pretty special,” he said. “He loves every aspect of it, you can see that by the way he trains and plays.”

Jones is excited by what the future holds for Curry (Getty)

But fear not: Curry is not immortal. There are flaws like the rest of us, most notably that fact that the rest of the squad have learned these last few months that he has one major problem. He sleepwalks.

Luckily, Curry didn’t manage to make it out of his bedroom door, and in sharing a room with Billy Vunipola and then Mark Wilson, he found himself surrounded by two of the deep sleepers of the squad.

“Off the pitch he’s a bit different,” adds Farrell. “He’s got the ability that if you’re having a laugh he’ll say something that’s way over the top that will just make everyone stop. He’s got that ability.

“Apparently Curry is a nightmare of a roommate. For many reasons. Snoring is one. As long as I can sleep, I’m all right.”

If Curry can unlock the secret to a world-beating back-row, Jones won’t care one bit how loudly his young protégé snores through the night.

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