Tom Curry relishing fight for places in Lions’ back row

Tom Curry is content to operate in the British and Irish Lions‘ most competitive department as the race to claim a back row spot against South Africa intensifies.

Curry makes his Lions debut in Wednesday’s clash with the Sharks in Johannesburg after overcoming a pectoral injury sustained while performing a bench press in the gym, forcing him to sit out the wins over Japan and the Sigma Lions.

Sam Simmonds, Curry’s exiled England team-mate, and late call-up Josh Navidi complete a loose trio that have been instructed by Warren Gatland to express themselves on the pitch.

All have much to prove at altitude at Emirates Airline Park, knowing that their back row rivals have each made an impact in the first two games, as they target the opener against the Springboks on July 24. Curry values having to fight for his place, however.

“Everyone is mentioning selection as if it’s a negative thing for the players – it’s not,” the England openside said.

“It’s brilliant to see Tadhg Beirne go well and it’s brilliant to see Courtney Lawes and Hamish Watson go well at the weekend.

“It shows we’re doing something right as a group. The brilliant thing about the side at the minute is the competition.

Sam Simmonds will be hoping to make an impact with his ball carrying against the Sharks
Sam Simmonds will be hoping to make an impact with his ball carrying against the Sharks (David Davies/PA)

“Now I can’t wait to get my opportunity and to get stuck in and love it, especially with Sam and Josh. They’re both unbelievable players.

“Playing with those two is going to be really exciting – Sam especially in attack and having Navidi around the breakdown defensively.

“It’s a really exciting combination and we’ll throw ourselves at everything.”

Still only 23, Curry has become a mainstay of England’s back row but the explosive openside denies he is playing catch-up for the Lions after missing the first two matches.

“I’m just going out there to play rugby,” the Sale forward said. “Selection is for others to speak about.

“For me it’s about doing what I love and playing for a team I’ve dreamt about.

“Obviously I can’t wait to get stuck in and whatever happens, happens. I’m just there and I love it.

“Whatever opportunities you do have, you have to take. Everyone gets the same amount, it’s not like people are getting more or less.”

Curry’s first appearance for the Lions comes three days after his twin brother Ben made his England debut off the bench against the USA at Twickenham, watched by their parents in the stands.

“I was really excited for Ben. It probably saves my parents a lot of travelling so I think they’re a bit happy with that!” Curry said.

Stuart Hogg is a fitness doubt for the Lions against the Sharks
Stuart Hogg is a fitness doubt for the Lions against the Sharks (Steve Haag/PA)

“I’m pretty gutted I couldn’t be there to see it and congratulate him, but watching it on the TV I think he went pretty well so it’s really exciting. Hopefully he’ll be able to push on to more things.”

Replacement full-back Stuart Hogg faces a late fitness test for a dead leg that could force the Lions into a change to their bench against the Sharks, but otherwise hamstring-injury victim Robbie Henshaw is the squad’s only fitness concern.

Two emphatic wins have launched the tour in promising fashion and it would take a major upset for their momentum to be halted in Johannesburg.

The Sharks have lost nine players to the Springboks squad including captain Siya Kolisi and while a step up on the Sigma Lions, they lack the firepower to really trouble Gatland’s men.

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