‘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’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union - By Char­lie Mor­gan

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

Na­tions in

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

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