Mako Vunipola Rugby World Cup 2019: How Tom Curry and Sam Underhill’s masterclass marked a generational shift

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A word that has been repeatedly used at this Rugby World Cup by numerous coaches is cyclical: World Cups are cyclical, the laws of the game are cyclical, coaches are cyclical.

So too are players, and on Saturday we were treated to the most perfect examples of that seen at the World Cup so far. On one side you had Michael Hooper and David Pocock, the originators of the double-openside back row and widely regarded as the finest in their trade for the last four years. On the other, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, just 43 years between them, and trailing the Wallaby duo by a gargantuan 153 international caps.

For Curry and Underhill, it had been billed as the ultimate test against the players who helped inspire them to play the game, and to see how the English pair not only went blow for blow with the Australian greats but played them off the park just goes to show how special this current back-row unit actually is.

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Playing between them was Billy Vunipola, who at only 26 years old will also be around for some years to come. The way those three are going, Curry-Underhill-Vunipola will become as recognisable as Hill-Back-Dallaglio. It is merely a case of how long it takes to cement that legacy.

In England’s last outing two weeks ago, it was Underhill who claimed the man of the match award just ahead of Curry, and this time around in England’s 40-16 defeat of Australia, it was Curry who took the honours. You sensed once again that Underhill was not far behind. But it could only go to Curry – it had to go to Curry. The young Sale Sharks flanker was phenomenal in defence, a particular highlight coming when he lined up Reece Hodge, smashed him halfway back to Sydney and set the platform for Underhill to swoop in and seal the turnover. It could easily have been mistaken for ‘Pooper’ at their very best, only this time they were wearing white instead of gold.

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