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Rugby Matters: Double helping of the Curry twins may be on Eddie’s menu

The Curry twins

Tracing the career trajectory and development of Ben Curry over the coming months and years is going to prove interesting. I would respectfully suggest that the Sale flanker has gone a little under the radar thus far, not least because his twin brother Tom has been such a roaring success at openside since making his England debut three years ago in Argentina.

Ben conjured up a MOM performance for Sale when promoted to the captaincy on Tuesday night at Wasps where his side manufactured a much-needed win to breathe life back into their faltering Premiership campaign and offered up a timely reminder that there is more than one Curry on the menu.

Back in 2015, when my trusted contacts on the schools’ circuit started to excitedly ring up with reports of two new stars at Oundle School, it was Ben who always got first billing. The Currys obviously came as a package but the consensus was that Ben was first among equal.

Both were natural sevens although to maximise two exceptional talents, Oundle often switched Tom to No.8.  Ben was also captaincy material. He captained Oundle, he captained England U18 and he captained England U20 at the Junior World Cup in 2018 when they finished runners- up to an outstanding France side. And now he occasionally leads Sale as well.

Still only 22 and with close to 100 first team appearances under his belt at Sale, you would have to conclude, objectively, that Ben Curry has FEC written all over his forehead. He has served and continues to serve what we in the past would consider the perfect apprenticeship.

But the complication is there for us all to see. It was Tom – with his incredible ability at the breakdown and strong tackling game – who first attracted Eddie Jones’ attention in 2017 when an untimely injury saw Ben on the sidelines at the end of the season. Tom was first out of the blocks.

Tom made a more than acceptable senior England debut that summer on tour against the Pumas and 12 months later was arguably England’s best player in their 2-1 series defeat in South Africa. In the blink of an eyelid he has won 23 caps and appeared in a World Cup final.

Their uncle, former England hooker John Olver, had seen all this coming when I spoke to him back in 2016. He was their coach at Oundle and had been trying to quietly warn the family –  notably his sister Susanne who is the lads’ mum – that although the school side could accommodate two tearaways of almost identical talent and skillset, it wouldn’t be so easy at senior level.

There can be an odd dynamic with sporting twins. One of the more remarkable rugby statistics is that twins Jim and Finlay Calder both managed to star in Scotland Grand Slam- winning teams – and let’s face it there have only ever been three Scottish Slams – while not once appearing in the same Scotland side together.

Jim signed off in 1985 with the last of his 26 caps, against Wales at Murrayfield, while Finlay enjoyed an extraordinary Indian summer to his career and won the first of his 34 Scotland caps against France the following year. 

Another case in point, with cricket the sport, is the Waugh brothers Steve and Mark who both ended with first class averages of 51. Both were schoolboy prodigies and tipped for the top with Mark – seemingly the more gifted and natural talent – earning the most extravagant accolades and junior awards.

But when it came to Test cricket it was the gritty, dogged, Steve who initially moved into the ascendency. Steve made his Test debut in 1985 ahead of Mark who, stung by criticism of a squandered talent, went on his travels and started pursuing a county career with Essex where he started scoring a pile of runs. The Aussie Press famously dubbed him the ‘forgotten Waugh’ and it wasn’t until January 1991 that he finally got to make his Australia debut, ironically at the expense of Steve who was experiencing a dip in form.

Obviously, the Currys are both natural opensides – even if Eddie still thinks Tom might do a job at No.8 – while both the Waughs were middle order batsmen. 

With the Cuttitta twins at least that was very different. Marcello was 5ft 11 and an athletic 85kg, Massimo was 5ft 11 and 110kg. The former became Italy’s greatest ever wing and try scorer with 25 in 54 Tests, the latter was a pit pony but became one of Italy’s very best props appearing in 69 Tests and captaining Italy at the 1995 World Cup.

The Contepomi twins were a hybrid case. Manuel was built like a brick outhouse and really should have been a Pumas lock but found himself at centre while the much smaller Felipe was clearly a fly-half even if he did occasionally play centre. With these twins there was no competition as such. Felipe was always a starter, Manuel was occasionally drafted in alongside his brother if Argentina needed an enforcer at centre.

So which way will it play out with the Currys? Tom has got off to a flying start but my strong hunch is that Ben also has a considerable England career ahead of him. Whether it will be in tandem or as interchangeable players in the same position remains to be seen. Ben’s aptitude for captaining teams will also eventually become part of the equation.

The forthcoming Autumn internationals, although very welcome, are of no great importance this year. There will be an asterix beside them for evermore so it seems Eddie Jones is likely to experiment a little in which case Ben could soon open his account.

BRENDAN GALLAGHER

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