Tom Curry ready to nail down place in absentee-hit England back-row

Tom Curry looks the one piece of England’s back-row jigsaw that Eddie Jones can be sure is in the right place as the Autumn internationals loom.

A key unit decimated by suspensions and injuries has left Eddie Jones facing some difficult decisions as the Red Rose prepare for their four upcoming Tests with a training camp here in Portugal.

With Billy Vunipola nursing his latest broken arm, No8 looks to be the beef of Ben Morgan, who hasn’t played for his country in three years or the more athletic Zach Mercer, who never has. Blind-side flanker is taking a punt on one of four men with a grand total of six caps, or asking Maro Itoje or Courtney Lawes to play out of position.

Thakfully, there is more clarity at No7 in the 20-year-old form of Sale’s Curry.

If there were doubts over whether Curry was ready for Test rugby ahead of the summer tour to South Africa, he proved his maturity against the Springboks.

Callow kid or not, he was the find of the trip.

“The South Africa tour gave me a lot of confidence in terms of my physicality and being able to step up to that level,” said Curry. “This season I’ve probably been a bit less cautious as far as being able to cope physically. It’s made me feel a bit better about myself.

“There wasn’t that much reflection on what happened. It was just a case of getting a good rest and coming firing into the season.

“I was told to just make sure I come into the season fit and carry on pushing forward and to make sure everything I do is with 100 per cent intent. If I’m going for the ball, absolutely go for it – if not, pull out.”

Sam Underhill represents the alternative in the poacher’s role although his cause has not been helped by his failure to break into Bath’s Heineken Cup starting line-up over the past fortnight.

“Sam’s very good in defence, a really strong tackler but you can’t compare yourself too much with other people,” said Curry. “Obviously there’s competition, but you can’t really worry about it, you’ve just got to worry about yourself and play as best you can – that’s how you’re going to pull up for selection.”

Jones’s belated conversion to the need for turnover specialists like Curry and Underhill at open-side flanker is a response to the breakdown issues which dogged England last season. It also coincides with a change in the way the game is being refereed in the Premiership and especially in Europe.

“There has been a lot more competition at the breakdown – it’s a bit different this year,” said Curry, who stands second behind Itoje in the Premiership turnover count this season.

“When we played Newcastle, Harlequins, they were all going for the breakdown and in Europe it felt there was a bit more space and time to go for the ball.”

The direction of travel makes Curry an asset precious beyond his years so the trick now will be to avoid club and country over-relying on him. Steve Diamond has deployed him for 347 minutes at Sale so far this season out of a possible 480 with twin brother Ben on 400.

“We’ve actually played quite a lot together this season, probably more minutes than in the last two seasons combined, but Dimes has been really good with us in terms of rotation. It helps when you’ve got an identical twin to rotate with,” said Curry. “I still think it’s in the back of people’s minds how many minutes we both get. We’re still young; the body’s still going through a lot of changes.”

At the front of Jones’s mind will be the necessity to construct a coherent back row over the coming week in Portugal.

Whoever ends up either side of him, it looks like Curry will be at the heart of it.

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