In Conversation With: Tom Curry

In Conversation With: Tom Curry

We catch up with the Rugby Union wonder kid himself to talk about the importance of family, the value of pressure, and the unimportance of self-preservation

Talk us through the story so far. How did you get into rugby in the first place?

I guess you could call it a family thing. My dad played up to 21. My uncle, too. He has a bit of a record, as it happens: he’s one of the most-benched players on the England team. He played at a time when you only got subbed on if the player you were subbing was injured. My uncle sat behind Brian Moore, a bit of a legend in his own right, who pretty much never got injured. Then there’s my brother Ben, who plays for Sale Sharks too.

It’s always been a very organic thing. We grew up around rugby, and a host of other sports, from a very young age. From the ages of 3 to 14, my dad saw to it that we were just playing for the sheer fun of it. And then come the age of 16 or 17, when Sale put a contract on the table, we started taking it more seriously. That’s when my dad kicked things up a notch.

That’s a solid support network, all in all. Do you think it’s important to have that level of support in a profession like yours?

Absolutely. Having both my dad and my brother taking similar paths has helped me enormously. There’s a huge element of relatability and understanding between us all. From a physical standpoint, everything my brother and I are is entirely down to him. That goes without saying. But my dad has been a tremendous pillar of emotional support, too. Without a doubt, neither myself nor my brother would be where we are now without him.

Your brother is an accomplished player in his own right. What has it been like coming up in the game together? Is it a source of motivation or competition? Is there a friendly rivalry between you two?

Oh, it’s certainly boiled over a time or two! We’re really competitive, we always have been. Even when we’d play cricket together as kids, there would always be a bat or two thrown about. As kids, we’d channel that sense of competition into just winding each other up. Now, it’s a major source of motivation for the two of us. That competitive edge helps us to push one another while we’re training. It holds us accountable. On those off days when I can’t quite motivate myself to get that workout in, Ben will give me that much-needed nudge, and vice versa. It’s those gentle reminders that stop you from growing too complacent. So yeah, there’s a real positive to that sense of competition. It’s a healthy competition for sure.

Can you talk us through a typical day of training?

To be honest there isn’t really a typical day. Some days are more taxing by design. They’ll involve heavy upper body sessions. These can take on a more low-key tone if they need to be doubled up as rehab more than anything. Trying to isolate muscles as opposed to going for big, explosive lifts.

You come to intuit what your body needs after a while. You know what it’s been lacking. So if I’ve not been doing much pulling, or firing up the deltoids for a while, for example, I’ll start getting small impingements in my shoulder. So I’ll try to isolate those areas to keep things ticking and sharp.

The tougher sessions tend to be more unstructured. Once you get into the general play of things, you don’t really have too much organisation. Those less structured sessions tend to include a hell of a lot more running, so that ticks the cardio box quite nicely.

There will be a physical element to it too, of course. It’s important, even in training, that you get a taste for contact. Not full-on, hell for leather stuff. We save that for the weekends. But just enough to keep the basics in line and the body ready.

That all sounds pretty relentless. How do you offset that kind of intensity outside of training?

I’ll usually get back and have a massive, 2 hour nap! I’m a big sleeper. I honestly don’t think I could cope without a good nap. It often gets overlooked, but rest is often just as important as the exercise itself. You can’t go all in 100% of the time. It’s all about finding a balance that works for you.

Aside from sleep, what do you do to relax after training?

After that I’ll socialise a little bit, grab a coffee over in Altrincham Market with my brother, maybe. It might sound a little counterintuitive, but I’ll usually round off a day of training with a lighter gym session with Ben. It’s not something I do with performance in mind, necessarily. It’s just something we’ve always done. It makes me feel good.

People think it’s performance focussed, but it’s more than that. Sure, working out helps me keep that all-important weight on, but it also puts me in a good place mentally.

A good gym session helps cut out any exterior stress. You can just concentrate on lifting as much as possible. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a sauna and a swim. Something lowkey that you can still go all-in on and blow off some steam.

How important is diet when it comes to your personal sense of fitness? Is maintaining that kind of mass ever a challenge?

Keeping the weight on can be tough! Just think of the energy demands of the World Cup: 20 weeks of solid playing, week in, week out, with only a few days downtime in between. It sounds like an odd problem to have, I know, but the sheer amount of eating involved is staggering. But it’s not a question of eating everything in sight. It’s important to be eating the right stuff. If you don’t stay on top of your diet, then you’ll see your performance drop off dramatically.

Surely you must have a guilty pleasure or two?

Let’s just say that the McDonald’s in Japan does a mean Chicken Fillet Burger! But seriously, you have to allow yourself the odd indulgence every now and again. They’re good for the soul. They also help make keeping that weight on a little easier too.

Generally speaking, would you say you’re a relaxed person? Are you able to switch off after playing or training?

I’ve given a fair bit of thought on this myself lately, and I’m definitely learning a lot about myself. As little as a year ago, I was racing back after training to go over recordings of my performance to see where I could tweak and optimise things. Recently though, I’ve learned to mellow out a little more.

I’ve found that your ability to switch off directly affects your ability to switch on. If you’re not capable of gearing down, you’re never going to be able to fire on all cylinders when the occasion really calls for it. As you get older I think that ability to adapt quickly and know when you need to chill out becomes more refined. But I’ve definitely learned a lot over the last few years.

And pre game? Do you still get any jitters before a match? Or is this all familiar territory to you now?

I still get nervous. I think it’s important that you do. You learn to harness those nerves, all that adrenaline, and use it to get yourself ready for the task at hand. You need it, to some extent. I’d honestly be more worried if I weren’t nervous! It’s not always pleasant at the time, but there’s no denying that it’s a useful energy if you can channel it effectively. Music helps with that: it sustains the excitement and anticipation right through to kick-off. Beyond that, the game takes care of the rest.

For all the nerves you might have beforehand, you’re fearless on the pitch. Is there any element of self preservation on the field? Or do you just have to go for it?

I think that’s one of the positives of getting into the sport at such a young age. That self-preservation really hasn’t kicked in [laughs]. Like I said before, I started playing for the sheer fun of it, and that really hasn’t changed. There’s an element of just letting go on the field. You don’t really hold on to that concern for yourself in the heat of it all. Which is pretty useful when playing the position I do, where you’re literally getting involved in just about every grisly aspect of the game.

Do you have any pre-game rituals?

Not really. I know a lot of people expect players to have rituals like this but I’ve never found them useful. Because you hear so much about it, don’t you? Omens and the like; players insisting on putting their left boot on before their right otherwise it’s bad luck, and things like that.

I’ve done a lot of reading around the psychology of it all, and I’ve found that you just get in your own way with thinking like that. You don’t want to go into a game with any of those suppostitions. Because they’ll only distract you. You have to learn to roll with any and all variables before a game, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for distraction. That could see you really lose your edge.

That said, you’re one of the youngest players to start an international in 90 years. You’re going toe to toe with older, more experienced players. Is that ever intimidating?

It’s a learning experience more than anything. It’s great to hear of the experiences of the older lads and draw on their insights. There’s no real pressure in that sense, certainly not within the team. It doesn’t really matter if you have one cap or a hundred, everyone is playing with the same goal in mind. It’s a great experience.

Has there ever been a point in your career when you’ve had your confidence knocked at all?

Obviously, there are the times when you miss a tackle or you drop the ball. It can feel pretty devastating at that exact instant. But one of the most brilliant things about rugby is the fact that the game gives you so many chances to redeem yourself. The game really doesn’t stand still, so you find yourself constantly pushing forward. So yeah, I dropped the ball in the World Cup final, but before you know it, you’ve got another scrum and you’re about to make another tackle straight away. So you put it out of your mind and you press on.

So it’s really all about making that sense of pressure work for you, rather than being dominated by it?

Totally, you’ve hit the nail right on the head. There are definitely games – like the New Zealand semi final – where all you can think about is how important the game is. Not just for yourself, but for those around you, for England. In those cases, some players might tell themselves that it’s just another game. They play down the importance of it all to minimise that sense of pressure. But I prefer to appreciate it for exactly what it is. I like that sort of pressure, because it gives it all a real sense of purpose. Those moments don’t come around very often. They might never come around again. You’ve got to treat those moments of pressure with the respect they deserve.

Photography by Colin Dack

Interview by Will Halbert of The Essential Journal

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