‘You don’t just sign Manu and win the Premiership’
Tom Curry has been busy in lockdown – getting bigger and planning a title challenge with Sale’s ‘unbelievable squad’
It was in November 2017 that Paul Gustard, then England’s defence coach, called the teenaged Tom Curry “a new breed of athlete”. Having dislocated a wrist bone and ruptured ligaments, ruling him out of the autumn internationals, Curry had immediately vowed to use his lay-off to blitz leg weights and improve his acceleration.
Sure enough, he capitalised. Two months ago Eddie Jones revealed that the back-rower was “as quick as some wingers” in the England squad.
Unsurprisingly, then, Curry has pursued a different goal during this long period without rugby. And he persisted with it beyond an aborted attempt to learn the piano.
“It was size,” says the 22-year-old, before explaining an aim that would have been at odds with those of most people in lockdown. “I’m someone who loses weight easily, especially when I’m in camp. I want to be permanently heavier when I’m back playing.”
Curry decamped to his parents’ house in Nantwich with twin brother Ben and sister Charlotte. He brought gym equipment and sought out a food preparation company to make regular deliveries.
He ate four meals a day instead of his usual three with the extra one at 4pm. “That made a massive difference. It obviously wasn’t bad food. It was pasta, chicken, rice.”
Supporters of Sale Sharks counting on one of their stars to inspire a Premiership push should not be concerned. Curry says bulking up will not mean becoming chunky and sluggish. “It’s a balance,” he says. “I don’t think weight matters massively for a lot of positions but I do feel better when I am close to 110kg [17st 5lb]. Putting weight on is a process. There are times when you probably need to put on some ‘bad weight’ – a little bit of fat. You build up and then cut, losing weight from there. That’s the best way to add muscle.
“But you have to make sure you are comfortably able to run with it. If you can’t run then you can’t play rugby and the weight is useless.”
Adaptability is a trait Jones cherishes and Curry’s is remarkable. Asked to shift from openside to blindside flanker for the World Cup, assuming a bigger role in the lineout, he shone brightly enough to be nominated as
World Rugby’s player of the year. At No 8 for the Six
Billy Vunipola’s absence, Curry put a difficult defeat in France behind him and responded well to Jones’s advice to “play with freedom”.
Regret has not dominated his hiatus. Curry does not seem to have time. “We lost the World Cup and that’s that,” he shrugs. “OK, brilliant. I think I’d rather focus on what I need to do to get better.” When games restart, breakdown-law interpretations from referees will be an intriguing subplot. Curry and other England back-rowers have been analysing video clips from Super Rugby and old Tests in weekly video link-ups to ponder possible strategies and techniques. John Mitchell, the England defence coach, has led some sessions. On other occasions, players have pinpointed moments and made presentations to spark discussion. “Discipline and making good decisions will be even more crucial,” Curry says. “If you’re giving away loads of penalties, that will lose you games with referees picking up on the smaller details when the Premiership starts back.
“I don’t think it’s a restraint thing. I think it’s a decision-making thing that you practise. It will be easier to answer this after we play a few games but as soon as you start hesitating, you take your edge away.
“I’ll learn more over the next six weeks – after playing and getting used to what [referees] want. For now, I’ll be practising targeting the ball more. When you’re clearing out, you need to stay square, stay on your feet and not put your hands on the floor. If you get in the right habits, you should be fine.”
Often it can be hard to believe sportspeople when they insist they are not contemplating a significant milestone on the horizon. Curry’s reaction to being asked if he had thought about next summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa sounds genuine. “Err … the
Lions?” he asks, in a tone bordering on incredulity. “Not really. There is no point thinking about it. I play my best rugby when I’m loving it and living every day.”
Steve Diamond, the Sale director of rugby, is more bullish. He wants five Sharks across both sides in the series – and that is not too farfetched.
Whether or not Curry does end up playing in all 12 months of the next year – eminently possible given the fixture congestion – the climax of Sale’s 2019-20 campaign is the pressing priority. He acknowledges there will need to be “honest chats” with coaches regarding mental and physical sharpness. Curry suggests that the Sharks’ “unbelievable squad” and “brilliant depth” will allow them to rotate selection. “It’s my job to play the games. I’ll let others worry about how many I play.”
It is with that in mind that Curry expresses his confidence that Diamond will bring out the best in Manu Tuilagi, a man for whom “rugby looks easy”. Springbok lock Lood de Jager and centre Sam Hill, a former Exeter Chief, are other new arrivals. Sharks scent silverware and are preparing accordingly.
“We’re second [in the table] and with the people coming in it does feel like something is brewing,” Curry says. “But we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. You don’t just sign Manu and win a Premiership. A big focus of ours has been not to waste the time we have now. [Games] will come around quickly. We’ll see where we are then.”
Curry has made a habit of using his downtime wisely. As he aims to surface from lockdown as a better, bigger player, Sale should reap the benefits.
Action man: Tom Curry is constantly working on his game and has made an effort to bulk up; (above) in action during the Six Nations against Ireland