Rugby World Cup: England’s kamikaze kids set sights on All Blacks

Tom Curry won the player of the match award in England’s QF win over Australia.

The heroes of England's Rugby World Cup quarterfinal thrashing of Australia were what coach Eddie Jones calls Kamikaze Kids — Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. The two openside flankers harried the Wallabies (outplaying the originals, Wallabies Michael Hooper and David Pocock) and are expected to duel now with All Blacks flankers Sam Kane and Ardie Savea, which will be the battle flying into the first ruck of the England-New Zealand semifinal this coming weekend.

Stuff.co.nz says, “England coach Jones is expected to start specialist fetchers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, who he has dubbed the Kamikaze Kids, against the All Blacks and no doubt hopes they can pilfer mouthwatering turnover ball, as well as tackle anything that twitches in a black jersey at Yokohama Stadium.”

Curry and Underhill are the biggest exponents of the trend of starting specialist opensiders on either side of the scrum. It's how the game has evolved - the three loose forwards all carry out not too dissimilar versatile roles. Between them, Curry and Underhill made 36 tackles against Australia. “Teams are so structured and probably the best chance to attack from unstructured is turnover ball,” stuff writes, so the pin-up stars of the English pack have been the two flankers forcing changes in possession.

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How the names stuck

“Dynamic duo Sam Underhill and Tom Curry give England comic-book gusto” read Guardian's header. “Eddie Jones calls them his Kamikaze Kids, which fits – because the way Tom and Sam play is right out of a comic book. You could picture it in Roy Lichtenstein prints. Pop! Pow! Whaam! Boom!” it reads.

There's an ode to the tackles: one that Underhill put in on the strapping No. 8, Isi Naisarani, which reversed the entire flow of the Australia game. Naisaranini is almost two metres tall and 18-stone heavy, he caught the ball and came charging right back at Underhill, who caught him flush in the gut, forced him back, lifted him off his feet and dumped him down in a heap.

“It was a ruinous tackle, the sort of blow that staggers an entire team backwards,” Guardian wrote. Combining, Curry and Underhill’s best moment came when they teamed up on Reece Hodge as he came thundering in off his wing. Whack, Curry cut him down, and, smack, Underhill pounced and stole the ball off him.

When Marika Koroibete came charging hard for the gap in front of Curry, the latter came flying in from the side and knocked Koroibete off his feet and into next week. A second try-saving tackle in 20 seconds.

Pooper (Pocock & Hooper as the English call them) were beaten by the Kamikaze Kids in the Battle of the Breakdown. 'Youth vs Experience', 'Pooper vs Cunderhill', 'The Kamikaze Kids vs Their Childhood Heroes', the match-ups went.

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Who are the Kamikaze Kids?

They have a combined 28 caps between them and a combined age of 44. Australia's coach Michael Cheika pioneered the move of double opensiders at the 2015 World Cup while evicting England from their home Cup. Eddie Jones this August looked willing to risk it all on a couple of young bucks; Curry and Underhill, the tackling titans, no slouches at the breakdown, fledgling flankers with youth and enthusiasm on their side who will hit rucks all day long.

Curry would say, “It is a physical position and one that is not the most glamorous. It is pretty gritty and you have to enjoy that the guy scoring out wide is usually because someone has done something in the middle that is fairly dull to watch but creates special moments in the game.”

Rugby's i-newsletter writes, “Another side to the “kamikaze kids” is their emergence as an engagingly odd couple when it comes to the social side of the squad. Curry is 21 and Underhill 23.

Curry, according to Underhill, is an occasional sleep-walker, whose nocturnal movements upset England’s fly-half George Ford during pre-World Cup training camps in Surrey. “He had one night with George before he had to be moved because he was sleepwalking so much and just being a nuisance,” Underhill said. “How far did he get? I think he was in front of a TV trying to knock it over.”

Bath’s Underhill is a student of politics and economics whose idea of a good time in the team hotel is completing a 1,000-piece jigsaw. Curry of Sale Sharks is, apparently, a chunterer who never stops speaking in daylight hours, or snoring when night falls. Curry is quoted saying, “We are probably too electric [as company] – people can’t handle it. He [Underhill] is very relaxed and chilled, I am a bit less relaxed and chilled. Apart from that, we are both pretty weird.”

Who are openside flankers?

The No. 7 position in rugby flanking the pack, these are wing forwards of the scrum (blindside near the touchline, openside further inside the field). The openside flanker standing as the first link to the running backs will be one of the most physical, craftiest, fittest and downright tough players capable of attacking and defending against men much larger and much quicker than them. Crunching tacklers, greedy of breakdown work, fighting for balls in rucks and mauls and ball-carrying ability that forwards aren't known for, openside flankers take on the bigs, and earn turnovers.

What's in vogue with the big teams now is tossing the ball to two openside flankers. —ENS