Eddie Jones believes “Kamikaze kids” Tom Curry and Sam Underhill can make the difference for England at the World Cup.
Head coach Jones hopes to field twin openside flanker threats Curry and Underhill in the same back row on Saturday when England host Ireland at Twickenham.
The wily Australian boss wanted to pair up the natural scavengers in the first warm-up match against Wales, but injuries derailed that plan.
Jones believes the ball-hunting duo could hand England a World Cup edge if the Japan tournament revolves around the breakdown and cannot wait to see the destructive pair in action.
“They are like the Kamikaze kids those two,” said Jones.
“Playing two guys who are pretty good at the breakdown might give us an advantage in that area.
“They hit everything. They hit everything that moves. But off the pitch they’re nice public schoolboys.
“We wanted to try it in the first game against Wales. That was the first time they were available to do it.
“In Curry, what I see on the training pitch is a guy who is progressing rapidly.
“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.
“If it’s going to be two people over the ball every breakdown we want to be able to do the same thing.
“We’re asking, ‘Is this a strategic (refereeing) 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.
“You’ve just got to see what’s happening in the game, the number of kicks.
“Why are people kicking the ball more? Because you can’t get fast ball.
“So you’ve got to work out why you can’t get fast ball.”
Bath flanker Underhill accepted Jones’ “Kamikaze kid” nickname for the clear compliment intended, hoping he and Curry can emulate the kind of impact David Pocock and Michael Hooper can boast for Australia.
“I resent being thrown into that category with Tom – he has injured far more people in training than I have, he’s a nutter!” joked Underhill.
“I am glad I am on the same side of him for training.
“But a healthy disregard for your own well-being is pretty essential if you are playing rugby in general, so I will take that as a compliment.
“Australia and Wales are big into it too, Ireland have done it with Dan Leavy and Josh Van Der Flier.
“You are getting to a point where you are not really a six or seven, you’re a flanker, a back-rower.
“I have played against teams with two sevens and it is just a different dynamic and a different sort of contest.”
Sale grafter Curry admitted he cannot wait to pair up with Underhill in the same England back row.
“It’s really exciting, whenever you get to play with someone that talented is pretty exciting anyway, let alone at six and seven,” said Curry.
“Obviously it’s new, we’ve been practising it for a few weeks in training, it has been going well.
“We have to make sure we can learn and adapt in the game as well because obviously it is the first time – get to know each other and see how each other works.”
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Manu Tuilagi has admitted hiding the early stages of the groin injury that almost ended his career back in 2014.
The England centre revealed he strapped himself up in secret and played through the pain for five games, keeping the injury from Leicester’s physios and coaches.
Tuilagi was applying tape to his groin and pubic bone like a belt until he felt a “loud pop” in a European match against Ulster that left him unable to walk.
The Samoa-born powerhouse won just two caps between 2014 and 2019 amid a catalogue of setbacks, and he even sought the services of a witch doctor to help end his injury curse.
Now fully fit and itching to flex his muscles as England inch toward the World Cup, the 28-year-old laid bare his folly in ignoring his body’s natural warning signs some five years ago.
“You just think, ‘I am never going to get injured’, even if it hurts you think, ‘I will be alright’; that is a lesson,” said Tuilagi.
“With my groin, I played five games with it being really painful. It was stupid.
“It was the start of the season in 2014. I pulled my adductor but I had no idea what an adductor felt like if you pulled it.
“I did it on the Thursday, played on the Saturday and strapped it up. I played five games with it and it went higher and higher into my groin.
“At one stage I started strapping my pubis. The physio was like, ‘What are you doing?’, I said, ‘Er, nothing’.
“I started strapping my pubis, which was just stupid. In the fifth game, I got the ball in the first 20 minutes, went to accelerate and bang, there was a pop, a loud pop and I just couldn’t walk.
“I had pretty much dislocated my pubic bone. I guess I wasn’t honest with the physios, but also I didn’t really know what it was. I didn’t tell the physios. I would say, ‘It is a bit sore’.
“It got to that point where you are running and trying to just take the pain.
“With injuries, you have to be honest. That is the best because if you’re not honest with the physio they don’t know how to treat you. That’s the biggest thing, trying to be honest as much as possible.”
Tuilagi could have almost doubled his 34 England caps but for his horrid run of injuries across the last five years.
The battering-ram centre tries not to dwell too much on those lost opportunities but is keen for others to heed this cautionary tale.
Asked how different the last five years could have been, Tuilagi said: “I ask that myself at times but I don’t regret anything. Whatever happened there has got me here now. Of course, it would have been different.”
Tuilagi now swears by regular meetings with Leicester’s sports psychologist and a more mindful warm-up routine, hoping both can pay a dividend at next month’s World Cup in Japan.
“We have a psychologist that comes into Tigers, he comes in every couple of months and I have about half an hour with him just speaking to him about how you get your body ready and rugby in general,” said Tuilagi.
“We talk about my game and that; that really helps me. The warm-up is important in terms of my mind and body. I need to get my mind right to go into contact but also knowing that my body is 100 per cent ready for it, especially now the game is so physical.
“I guess I take more time warming up and just go through the drills so that when I am going into training I can pretty much go full speed.
“Some things you can play through with pain, but if your body cannot function mechanically, that’s the big problem.
“I love being here with England now though, especially with this group of players. It’s something special that is happening here and for me, just being part of that is unbelievable.”
Leaving Eden Park last weekend, Australia’s crushing 36-0 defeat to the All Blacks surely left head coach Michael Cheika more questions than answers.
Seven days previously, the Wallabies waltzed to a record 47-26 win over the world champions in Perth and, heading into the return fixture, looked on course to clinch a first Bledisloe Cup in 17 years.
Where everything the Wallabies touched in Perth turned to gold, it blew up in their faces in Auckland.
And for Cheika, that has unfortunately been the theme of his managerial reign after leading an ill-regarded Wallabies squad to the World Cup finals in 2015.
A promising performance, always followed by one poor display.
Aside from last Saturday’s assassination against New Zealand, Cheika’s side are in a much better place compared to nine months ago when they were coming off their worst season in 60 years. Nine defeats in 13 Tests left them sitting sixth in the world rankings and low on confidence.
But, in truth, it has been a fairly poor four years for the Wallabies since reaching the World Cup finals, with 18 victories and two draws from 46 matches.
If there is anything to give them belief ahead of Japan, it is the two-time champions do tend to perform better at World Cups regardless of pre-tournament form. This is something that other teams will no doubt be wary of.
The Australians have enough quality through the likes of Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Michael Hooper and David Pocock to pose a threat on the grand stage. But a consistent 80-minute performance against quality opposition has looked increasingly beyond them.
Ill-discipline has contributed to the view of a wounded set-up, but what hurts Wallabies fans most is the sight of their backs approaching the defensive line with little idea of how to breach it.
With Fiji, Wales and Georgia to play before their World Cup opener on September 21, it is too late for the coaching ticket to be coming up with new game plans and styles. Instead, these three warm-up matches need to be used for Cheika to find his best XV while also showing consistency and hunger in their play.
Australia have always been about playing an expansive brand of rugby that relies heavily on their skillful backs, with Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor showing flashes of their old magic in recent weeks. Out wide, the elusive Hodges has three tries from three matches in the Rugby Championship and looks lethal with ball in hand.
At half-back, Nic White and Lealiifano have emerged as solid options if Cheika opts for them ahead of the experienced duo of Will Genia and Bernard Foley. Both can orchestrate proceedings and have the intelligence and pace to put the Wallabies on the front foot.
The Wallabies, though, will have their work cut out to reproduce a repeat of 2015 when Cheika transformed an average squad into World Cup finalists.
Drawn in Pool C with Wales, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay, the Wallabies should emerge as runners-up from the group which will pit them against England in the last eight.
Their encounter against Wales on September 29 is likely to be the pool decider, but the Dragons are the form team in the world and should have too much class for Australia.
A quarter-final finish may match the Wallabies worst ever finish at rugby’s global showpiece, but unfortunately, it is their glass ceiling at the moment.