OITA – England’s man of the match flanker Tom Curry said he enjoyed the massive physical battle with Australia more than the neatly-delayed pass he slipped to Jonny May that sent England on their way to their 40-16 quarter-final victory on Saturday.
Curry, along with his flanker colleague Sam Underhill, had an immense game, fully justifying coach Eddie Jones’s decision to play with twin opensides, having tried the system with the two youngsters only in August’s warm-up tests.
And, after playing his part in a gritty defensive opening quarter, Curry turned provider to slip the ball to May to score the first of two tries in three minutes that flipped the match England’s way.
"I would be a bit weird if I say making a tackle is more exciting than running with the ball. I don’t think you start rugby to make tackles but yeah, they are both pretty exciting," he said, adding that in a "weird way" he enjoyed the tackles more.
"You play rugby for the physicality and when you get moments like that, it is special, especially Sam off the kickoffs, those big tackles he was putting in. It is special to watch and encourages everyone. They are big statements.
"I realised what a special occasion it is and unbelievably exciting. These are the games you grew up watching and wanted to play in.” The 21-year-old said that having England’s 2003 World Cup winning flanker Richard Hill help hone his game since he was a teenager had been hugely important in his development.
"He is unbelievable," he said. "Having him as a mentor for five or six years has been huge for me. He would come to school, or every time I played we would have a phone call. He was hugely instrumental for me, plus probably a lot of players coming through." Underhill, who led the way with an impressive 20 tackles, said it was surreal coming up against David Pocock, in what will now be the Australian flanker’s final test.
"Any young back-row growing up in the last five or 10 years has probably looked at him as a guy that they want to be like and play like," he said.
"He’s been a brilliant role model for kids both on and off the pitch. A genuinely nice guy and a phenomenal career."
After Kyle Sinckler blasted through for England’s third try, winger Anthony Watson capped an excellent all-round display by grabbing an interception for the fourth in the closing minutes.
"We played our tactics really well but as the boys will tell you there are a lot of areas where we can improve and we will get that right over the next week," Watson said.
Asked at what point he thought the game was won, he said: "I was so in the moment that I never got to the point where I thought we could cruise. We had to continue to build and knew that even the further ahead we got the more unpredictable they would get and it was important for us to keep getting our defence right.
"There were times when they got quick ball and really tested us and it was a challenge across the board.”
England will now start the preparation to face New Zealand, who looked fiercely strong in their demolition of Ireland in the second quarter-final on Saturday, but Watson said he would wait a while before thinking about facing them.
"For now I just want to enjoy this win," he said. "It isn’t relief because we weren’t ever in awe of the moment. We just knew that if we performed well the result would take care of itself."