England’s Kamikaze Kids have taken the rugby world by storm, delivering stunning performances to help push their team to the brink of World Cup glory - and both kicked off their journey to stardom in and around Peterborough.
The back row duo of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill have been stars in Japan over the past month, and played a key part in England thrashing the all-conquering All Blacks to reach the final. They are now seen as an indispensable part of Eddie Jones’ team - with the Australian coach giving the duo their Japanese-themed nickname in honour of their skill, bravery and enthusiasm.
Both trace their roots back to our region. Sam, who is now 23, was a lively youngster at Longthorpe Primary School, while Tom – two years younger than his team mate – was a star for Oundle School’s sixth form rugby team.
Sherry Green, who still teaches at the Longthorpe school, says she can remember Sam, who lived in Bretton, being an energetic pupil - and how he showed his trademark work rate even as a small child.
She said: “I was his teacher when he was about six. He was a lively child. He was always into sports. I remember when he was older, he was in the swimming team. I found some of his old work the other day, and I put down ‘effort is always an A, but he needed work on his writing, like many young boys.
“He was a nice lad, and got on with all his classmates. He also had the kind of family you would save until the end of parents’ evenings, because they were such nice people.”
Sherry - who is a keen rugby fan - has been following the tournament closely, and hopes Sam’s success will inspire pupils at the school.
She said: “When he first got called up for England, I was sure I remembered the name - and then I recognised his face.
“It was a really nice shock - it is great to see someone doing so well. He has really come into his own in this tournament, and it is great to see. I am proud to have taught him, and that he has got so far.
“We have been telling the children at the school about Sam, and what he has achieved. We have told them that he used to come here, and that they can go on and be as successful as Sam.
“The children take part in tag rugby here and they really enjoy it, going to tournaments and playing matches.”
Sherry will be cheering on her former pupil at home on Saturday with friends.
A Peterborough City Council spokesman said the authority would consider organising an event for Sam - similar to other events organised for some of the city’s other sporting stars - ‘depending on the outcome of the match.’
Sam’s back row buddy, Tom Curry, made his name on pitches around Peterborough when he played for Oundle School alongside his twin brother Ben.
Tom’s Housemaster, William Gough, said both boys were popular in the school.
Mr Gough said: “It is hard not to mention Ben Curry alongside Tom as they were equally matched and drove each other on. At Oundle, both boys immediately impressed with their politeness, modesty, intelligence and hard work and as twins, they pushed each other on to the very highest levels of achievement and competitiveness.
“Tom’s rugby ability stood out right from the start, especially his natural hunter instinct, ability over the ball and of course his thumping tackles.
“We have had other schoolboy rugby internationals over my time at Oundle, but Tom was special with regards to his understanding of the game and his disciplined approach. Indeed, Eddie Jones described him as a fifth of a lineout jumper before the New Zealand game, but at school he was often a key jumper and ran the lineout very successfully.
“In the boarding House, Tom was a hero and hugely respected because of his normality and modesty. He was just one of the boys and great with the younger years. Amusingly, he was renowned for his low tolerance of horror movies and his friends would take great delight on the rare occasions when they would successfully ambush him en-masse and get him to the ground. We are extremely proud of him and being able to watch a World Cup Final with such a recent pupil in the England team is particularly special. We all wish him and the England team every success on Saturday.”
Head of Rugby, James Ingle commented “At Oundle, Tom had an incredible work ethic and desire to succeed. We have photos, as well as gym records, on the walls from when Tom was here and this really inspires other pupils, with many wanting to follow in his footsteps.”
l The Rugby World Cup Final kicks off at 9am (UK time) on Saturday, and will be broadcast on ITV1.