Rugby World Cup - Legend Peter Winterbottom backing ‘kamikaze kids’ to deliver for England against South Africa

ONE of England’s greatest flankers of all time has praised the “vision” of Eddie Jones for being brave enough to dovetail international tyros Tom Curry and Sam Underhill and see them fire the Red Rose to the World Cup final.

England rugby legend: Peter Winterbottom. Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
England rugby legend: Peter Winterbottom. Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Peter Winterbottom earned a reputation as one of the best opensides in the sport during a career that started at Headingley and went on to encompass 58 Tests for his country between 1982 and 1993.

Indeed, no No 7 amassed as many England caps until Neil Back surpassed his total in 2003, the year they won their solitary World Cup.

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Otley-born Winterbottom, who also played seven Tests for the British Lions, was renowned for his fearless attitude, thunderous tackling and tireless work-rate, so it is no surprise he is a fan of his country’s current flankers.

Dynamic duo: England's Tom Curry drives on supported by Sam Underhill against New Zealand.

Curry, 21, and Underhill, 23, have emerged as two of the stars of the World Cup in Japan, not least for their immense displays in helping England not only defeat but eviscerate back-to-back champions New Zealand in last weekend’s semi-final.

Given their formidable form and confidence, it is no surprise that Jones’s side are favourites to defeat South Africa, too, in Saturday’s showpiece.

Winterbottom – who played in the second World Cup final in 1991 – told The Yorkshire Post: “It is such great vision from Eddie to get these two blokes together and give them a shot.

“He got Curry involved a couple of years ago when he was just 19 (and England’s youngest forward since 1912) and now he’s gone up to being a World Cup player set for the final.

“But to get Underhill in there, too, at the age of just 23, and see both playing so well, it’s brilliant.

“Both are very young but they are phenomenal players. They’ve obviously got great communication with each other and great spirit; just look at the way they go around the pitch smashing everything.

“To do what they did to the All Blacks takes some doing. That was superb.

“I’m not sure when Eddie had the idea of pairing but clearly they complement each other so well and, with Billy Vunipola in there as well, it’s a pretty impressive back-row.”

Curry and Underhill were christened the ‘Kamikaze Kids’ when Jones first paired them against Ireland in the summer and it is easy to see why given the manner they fly around the field, marmalising opponents, forcing turnovers and proving nightmare rivals even for legends such as All Blacks captain Kieran Read.

Now they must do it all over again and former Yorkshire star Winterbottom expects South Africa – despite their underdog status – to test them even further in Yokohama on Saturday.

“England played very well against New Zealand but I think they’ll be put under an enormous amount of pressure by the Boks,” said the former Harlequins forward, who had a spell in South Africa with Transvaal and is now director of rugby at National League Two South side Esher.

“A lot of English people see us beating the All Blacks meaning we should beat South Africa reasonably comfortably.

“But I feel this is going to be a heck of a tough game; South Africa are so defensively solid and their forward pack is big.

“More than that, their second front-five, when they come on, are as big as the first.

“It’s going to be a very tactical game and obviously South Africa will kick a lot. It’s how we then deal with that but we’ve enough world-class players to pull through.”

While this is England’s latest World Cup final, and the last was also against South Africa in 2007 – the most famous being that 2003 success – Winterbottom experienced his country’s maiden appearance in the ultimate end-game.

That showpiece, of course, ended in contentious circumstances as the hosts lost 12-6 to Australia at Twickenham in 1991.

Famous Wallabies winger David Campese was penalised for a deliberate knock-on as he got a hand to Winterbottom’s pass, destined for winger Rory Underwood to surely finish with England trailing 12-3 at the time.

Will Carling’s side called for a penalty try but it was never given; they had to settle for Jonathan Webb’s kick instead and they never hauled in the Wallabies.

Winterbottom, 59, recalled: “We’d lost to Australia that summer and had quite a tough World Cup. But I remember being in the dressing room for the final and we all felt keyed up to do the job. It was very quiet, there was no bawling or shouting.

“We’d played most of our rugby in the forwards earlier in the tournament but felt we had to be a little more expansive in the final as we’d not dominated Australia’s pack in the summer.

“As it turned out, we did give Australia a good hiding up front in the final and were probably unlucky.

“We had chances. They didn’t have that many. We dominated the possession but couldn’t get over the line.

“”What happened with Campese was our biggest chance.

“People have always said we should have won and should have played a different style but I’m in disagreement with that; the game hinged on one dropped pass in their 22, they kicked through, got a line-out near our line and scored.

“Should Campese’s knock-on have resulted in a penalty try? It’s hard to say. I honestly don’t know.

“If you look at the TMO nowadays, they make decisions that people still don’t agree with. There probably was a call for a penalty try but in those days they were never given for those sorts of things.”