Shields and Curry must cement new partnership in South Africa and inspire England out of 2018 slump.
Brad Shields and Tom Curry must cement their new partnership in South Africa and inspire England out of 2018 slump.
England’s newest flanker pairing Brad Shields and Tom Curry must assert themselves as the Red Rose’s go-to men over the next two weeks in South Africa and help rectify a problematic breakdown for England and end the slump Eddie Jones’ side currently finds themselves in.
An area that has been hotly debated for over a decade has been the backrow, with none of Andy Robinson, Brian Ashton, Martin Johnson or Stuart Lancaster able to find a truly complete balance. In Shields, Curry and Billy Vunipola, Eddie Jones may have finally solved one of England’s biggest problem areas with a combination that could last for at least half a decade, injuries permitting.
While Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Tom Wood have, for the most part, held down the openside and blindside slots since the turn of the decade, they have all represented a typical, workhorse English backrow. High work rates and no lack of endeavour have kept them ahead of the majority of their competitors, but with the dynamic pairing of Shields and Curry emerging on the Test scene, the national side finally has a flanker pairing to rival top nations.
Robshaw has been one of England’s most consistent and valuable contributors for the last six years but has never truly offered the running threat, rugby intelligence and lineout versatility that the newly instated Shields bestows to England’s six jersey.
On the other side of the scrum, Tom Curry is the first genuine out and out seven England have aquired since Wasps’ Tom Rees was forced to retire some years ago. While Lewis Moody, Haskell, Robshaw and at times Wood have all made the seven jersey their own, none offered the same level of threat at the breakdown, ball-in-hand and link play Curry possesses in addition to their defensive proficiencies.
Shields and Curry start together for the first time this weekend as England look to end a five-match losing stretch against South Africa after going down 42-39 in the first of their three-Test series against the Springboks. With barnstorming number eight Billy Vunipola finally back fit and ready to pick up where he left off for England 15 months ago, Eddie Jones has the opportunity to gel a backrow with an almost perfect balance and ample longevity. At 27, 19 and 25 respectively, a loose forward unit of Shields, Curry and Vunipola has the chance to offer England a consistent and reliable combination on both sides of the ball.
This weekend, the trio must dominate the Springboks at the breakdown and in the contact area, ensuring opposing scrum-half Faf de Klerk is not permitted the outrageous quick ball he utilised to great effect while he tore England apart in Johannesburg. If this new backrow can live up to its potential this weekend, stalwarts Robshaw and Haskell may struggle to feature in a matchday 23 for England let alone the starting XV. With the options of Nathan Hughes and Sam Simmonds as impact substitutions or ‘finishers’ from the bench, Jones will struggle to justify the inclusions of either Robshaw or Haskell in his regular squads.
Shields’ experience of captaining the Hurricanes and Wellington Lions will stand him in good stead to stave off the challenge of Robshaw, while Curry will have to prove that despite his age, he can offer a more complete role in the seven jersey than former Wasps captain Haskell.
As he has with Elliot Daly at fullback, England boss Eddie Jones must persist with the backrow selected this weekend throughout the South African tour and November Internationals next season. The short-term losses that may be accrued off the back of Shields’ and Curry’s unfamiliarity or inexperience with England at Test level will be well worth the long-term benefits by the time the 2019 Six Nations and Rugby World Cup come around.
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