Oita, Japan | AFP | England scrum-half Ben Youngs described back-row marauders Tom Curry and Sam Underhill as “phenomenal” after they crushed Australian spirits in Saturday’s 40-16 World Cup quarter-final rout.
Curry and Underhill, who England coach Eddie Jones calls his “kamikaze kids” because of their appetite for destruction, made 36 tackles in Oita, peskily foiling Australia’s attempts to get back into a game dominated by the English after a fast Wallabies start.
The hulking figures of Isi Naisarani and Marika Koroibete were among those left in a heap by England’s snarling flankers as they overpowered Australia’s famed, ball-scavenging ‘Pooper’ combo of Michael Hooper and David Pocock, players they have idolised.
“They’ve been phenomenal,” said Youngs after England booked a semi-final date against defending champions New Zealand.
“I had lunch with Curry today and told him to show them how the new breed do it.
“It was six and seven match-ups against those two. What a fantastic day for those two to test themselves against David and Michael — who are tremendous players — and to come out on top.”
Among the quick hands, no-look passes and clinical finishing that led to a quickfire Jonny May double and a try each for Kyle Sinckler and Anthony Watson, the herculean work of England’s dynamic duo did not go unnoticed.
“I thought Tom Curry and Sam Underhill did very well, and the young fella Lewis Ludlam when he came on,” nodded Jones. “You know Hooper and Pocock have been at the top level for some time.”
Fight hard, give it everything, respect your opponents 👏💪
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 19, 2019
Hooper and Pocock’s brilliance helped fire Australia to the World Cup final four years ago but they had no answer to England’s dynamic duo, who were fitter, stronger and quicker at the breakdown.
– Hooper ‘absolutely gutted’ –
“It’s a bit surreal coming up against him this evening,” Underhill, 23, said of his idol Pocock, who is retiring from international rugby.
“Tom and myself were talking about it, he’s been such a brilliant player,” he added.
“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.
“That was the case for myself and Tom — he’s been a brilliant role model for kids both on and off the pitch. A genuinely nice guy and a phenomenal career.”
Man of the match Curry, 21, provided the shuffle pass for May to score his first try but perhaps more tellingly peeled off a scrum under the posts to smash into a charging Koroibete as the Aussies came knocking with the score 27-16 and the game still in the balance.
“You play rugby for the physicality,” said Curry. “When you get moments like that, it’s special. It would be a bit weird if I said making a tackle is probably more exciting than running with the ball.
“I don’t think you start playing rugby to make tackles, but they’re both pretty exciting.”
A dejected Hooper wore a haunted expression after a record-equalling defeat to their fierce rivals.
“I am gutted, absolutely gutted,” said the Wallabies captain.