Sale, England, Lions – the Curry twins continue to make a vivid imprint on the game. Who better to explain their rise to fame than their father and first coach, David Curry
The making of Ben and Tom Curry
Tom Curry lined up for the British & Irish Lions on Saturday, an ever-present in the team that just failed to clinch the series against South Africa. At just 23, he has 35 Test caps, multiple awards and is seen as a future England captain. Twin brother Ben has some catching up to do – he made his England debut v USA last month – but is also tipped for great things.
Related: South Africa pip Lions 19-16 to win the series
Rugby is in the blood of the Sale Sharks duo. Their father, David, played prop for England Schools and England Students, as well as for Rosslyn Park when they were in England’s top flight. He later switched to the back row – where his sons have found fame – and played for the London clubs Ruislip and Grasshoppers.
The head of Bishop Heber High School in Cheshire, David Curry coached Tom and Ben from their toddler years up to the age of 16. We asked him to relate his boys’ journey for part of an article that was published in our August 2021 issue. Here’s what he had to say…
“I was acting coach at Grasshoppers in Isleworth when Ben and Tom started, for a couple of months, as four-year-olds playing tag rugby,” writes David Curry. “I got a promoted post to the school I’m at now, Bishop Heber, and we moved to Nantwich (Cheshire). That’s why I played for Crewe & Nantwich, the club is literally at the the bottom of our road.
The mortgage broker for our house was the club sponsor, and his son was the same age as Ben and Tom. He said would I help coach? So I started coaching an U7s side which Ben and Tom played for at four years old.
Sport is in the family. Their mum is a PE teacher and a great gymnast, I’m a former PE teacher. Their uncle (John Olver) played rugby for England, their grandad was a fantastic cricketer, their auntie played lacrosse for Scotland. Patrick Jarrett, their cousin, plays for Stoke City, another cousin, Sam Olver, was a Premiership rugby player.
And their sister Charlotte played frisbee for Great Britain U17s – she tells them they’re not the only internationals in the family!
I coached Ben and Tom from the age of four to 16 and there was a lot of positive discrimination against them. They had the highest standards. I never wanted a parent to think they had any favouritism, so they had to work harder than the others.
It’s part of their DNA now. They’re great with referees, their acceptance of decisions. On some occasions they’ve come back and said, ‘Dad, that pass you said was forward…’ and we had those discussions, of course we did, but it was about being seen to not have any favouritism. And if we were ever winning, Ben and Tom would be the first two to come off.
They had exposure to anything and everything. Gymnastics, athletics, swimming, they were great cricketers (Cheshire academy), very good footballers, they were at the Man City academy and Crewe Alex academy. We didn’t want them to be one-trick ponies.
They spent nearly a year at Man City. Ben and Tom were the grim reapers at centre-back. Not much got through them. Some would say playing for an academy was fantastic and it was, but I suppose when they were doing that at 13, 14, it was complementing their rugby. Their rugby and their cricket were their main things.
On a Saturday they played for the school rugby, then Saturday afternoon they’d play club football, then Sunday morning club rugby, then Sunday afternoon they’d play Malpas football. So they were jiggered by Sunday afternoon but they didn’t want it any other way.
And academically, as you can imagine having two schoolteachers (as parents), homework and school work always came first.
When we moved north, we had the luxury of a small garden – compared to London it felt like a field. Yes, we had the Xbox but they were innately drawn to being outside. Our greenhouse was in pieces because it was holed by cricket balls, footballs or whatever; we got a new one this year for Mother’s Day. They’ve destroyed most windows in the house at some stage.
When they played seven on a side, they played fly-half and centre because there was no point putting them in the three-man scrum. When they went to five-man scrums, they stayed centre and fly-half. Ben was always fly-half, Tom the centre. Ben’s always had that greater control, he will put boot to ball more, he’s more deft.
When you go into contact at 11 in the school system, you had to have eight in the scrum. So that was the change. We moved Tom to No 8, so his destiny of playing back-row occurred earlier. Ben stayed as fly-half for a couple more years.
With all my squads, I was keen on making them great rugby athletes. So props were passing, kicking, catching high balls, and David Wilkes at Sale (now Leicester Tigers) was a real advocate of that. When they went to Sale at 14, it was a great commitment to get them up there twice a week but we fell in love with his principles.
When they were U14s, U15s, they would go to Newcastle, who had learnt how to scrum and lineout and we would get battered. But by the time they got to 16, 17 and 18, we were running rings around them because of our spatial ball awareness. I hate to cliché the All Blacks but that’s what they did, they did the basics really well.
They truly embraced rugby, we didn’t have to push them at all. Mum would say on a Saturday morning, ‘Dad’s off to play rugby, do you want to go swimming or ice skating?’ And every Saturday they would choose to watch me play.
And they started to be the touchjudge, they were waterboys, they got into the changing rooms, they saw the drinking games – they got a real experience of traditional rugby ahead of professionalism. They’ve seen the Man of the Match downing his Guinness and Mars bar, and the effing and jeffing at half-time.
And I think when they went to Oundle (School) they thought every first-team pitch was a billiard table. Having grown up at Crewe & Nantwich and gone to places like Ormskirk, Sunday morning in a quagmire, has given them that. They’ve had a great grounding, they’ve played games in driving rain on the side of a hill.
At GCSE, Ben got seven A-stars and three As. And Tom got three A-stars and seven As. So there was always that competitiveness, I didn’t have to push them to revise. They would go down to the kitchen table during study leave and they would be driving each other. Not just rugby. It got to the point where Ben was looking to be a doctor and Tom was looking to be a vet. And their A-Level results allowed them to do that.
We made a massive decision when they were 16 for them to leave my school to go to Oundle. Bishop Heber would have served their academic purpose, they would have done brilliantly here. But going to boarding school offered them an opportunity to go into separate houses and explore their own personalities. And to this day they have their own friendship groups, although they own two houses together and live together.
We had the best of best worlds, staying at Sale but with the exposure of Oundle. It worked out perfectly because Oundle only play rugby for one term. Whereas if they’d gone to Sedbergh, say, they’d have got too much rugby. People often say they went to Oundle for the rugby but they only played ten games of rugby there. It just happened that when they were there, they made the semi-final of the Daily Mail Cup. I think they struck gold in joining that year group.
It was U18s really when they realised they could be professional players. They had both applied to go to Nottingham University – independently of each other. One to do geography and one to do chemical engineering, they had reset their sights.
At that stage rugby was Plan B and going to uni and getting a degree was Plan A. But we agreed to flip that on its head. We always viewed their first year at Sale, U18s, as a gap year. And in that year they got their first-team caps and a call-up to England, so that gap year is now in their fourth year.
Genetically they are identical but their personalities, to mum, dad and close family, are very different. Ben has been remarkable in his support for Tom. His pride in his brother is there but deep inside he is as motivated as Tom, he’s extremely driven. He’s the youngest player at Sale to make 100 appearances, he’s played for England, he’s captained his country at U20s.
So he’s made his own milestones, Ben is absolutely on track. It’s just what Tom’s done, and now having had that second (England) Players’ Player of the Year, he’s made his own history which is extraordinary too. So they’re both extraordinary.
I think Tom has to be more humble. He was at home with his brother when he got the Lions call, they watched it on TV. All we could hear in the background was ‘well done’ and his brother saying ‘thank you’. That was it.
How hard must it have been for Tom, the best moment of his life but he decided not to be jumping up and down because his brother was there. That’s a special bond, they respect each other. But that competition between them is live and real and drives them massively.
I do think earlier when they were open and blind rather than left and right, at Premiership level there were weaknesses in their physicality. Now they’ve grown, that physicality has grown. I wouldn’t want to overplay the twin thing but they do have that symmetry and connection, they just have a real understanding of what each other is going to do. And that’s to the betterment of each other.”
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