perhaps it should not be surprising Tom Curry did not know who Terry Butcher is. It is a sure-fire way to make one feel old, yes, but not really a shock considering Curry was born almost a decade after Butcher’s blood-soaked heroics earned his place in English sporting legend. At 20 Curry is the youngest member of the England squad, as such responsible for keeping his teammates’ drinks topped up, and he has a way to go to earn legend status. But the early signs bode well. And he has already had his bloody Butcher moment – his face covered in claret during England’s thumping win over France last Sunday. “I thought I was just sweating,” says Curry. “Then it came up on the big screens and the whole crowd went: ‘Oooh.’”
As with most things Curry took it in his stride and he is matter of fact about how it happened: “I think I just head-butted the full-back.” Rather, it was his mum, Susanne, who was more concerned. “My mum’s tears had dried up [after the game] I think! Everyone was surprised how small [the scar] was, given how much blood there was. [My mum] was asking me on Tuesday night if my head was all right but everything was fine.”
The upside of Curry’s scar is that he and twin brother Ben are now distinguishable. Both were selected for England’s 2017 tour of Argentina but Tom’s rise has been rapid as Ben continues to ply his trade at Sale. There is no bitterness but also no doubting how influential a player Tom has become for England despite winning only seven caps. Eddie Jones is blessed in the sense that he has both Curry and Sam Underhill to play at openside, less so in that they never seem to be fit at the same time.
After missing all but 40 minutes of the last two autumn campaigns, as well as the Six Nations in between, now is Curry’s time to shine. Despite his brief departure from the pitch to be stitched up on Sunday, Curry was England’s top tackler, one ahead of Mark Wilson. Indeed, there is a neat symmetry to England’s current flankers. Both made their debut in the same match against Argentina in 2017 and both have now started seven Tests. They are becoming quite a double act and, when Curry won a penalty late on against France, it was Wilson who sprinted across the pitch to congratulate him – another example of the Newcastle Falcon’s infectious enthusiasm, not to mention England’s vast improvements at the breakdown.
“You come back to the number one job that a No 7 does,” says England’s forwards coach, Steve Borthwick. “It comes largely around the contest at the breakdown. You want someone who can increase the contest, who has that ability to slow down opposition ball, to steal opposition ball and an ability to ensure you have quick ball. That is Tom’s bread and butter.”
Curry is wary of picking out any illustrious openside flankers he models himself on, instead preferring to take bits and pieces from all of them – like “Frankenstein” as he describes it. “I’m not a fan of just focusing on one person because obviously you’re your own person and have your different traits. [Michael] Hooper, [David] Pocock, Francois Louw are obviously up there. George Smith’s been a big one. Just looking at everyone’s individual games, taking little bits and forming almost like Frankenstein, you take bits that you might enjoy and push away stuff that you don’t.” It helped, then, having Bristol in for a day’s training in the buildup to the France match, enabling Curry to pick the brains of the former Wallaby Smith. “It was a five- or 10-minute conversation and that’s worth a lot in terms of experience.”
The next test of Curry’s fledgling career comes in Cardiff a week on Saturday. He has never played at the Principality Stadium and recent history shows it can be a chastening experience for a callow back-row, judging by Jack Clifford’s struggles there in 2017 on only his second, and most recent, England start.
“As a player you want to test yourself in these environments and against these teams,” says Curry. “In terms of getting lost in everything it’s pretty difficult because you’ve always got that next job and always have to be improving on something otherwise you will fall behind. You hear those stories of Richie McCaw who has got it all written down, ‘I want to do this by this and so on’. I’m not like that. Everything has come on quite quickly, so I try to stay in the moment.”