Tom Curry and England will look to use past experiences to help them topple South Africa

Whilst also playing in the World Cup final four years ago, Curry was also involved in the semi against New Zealand
©Steve Hagg

After just three minutes of their opening game of the tournament against Argentina, it looked like more of the same, depressing narrative for England.

A red card for Tom Curry. Another one of Steve Borthwick's side heading for an early bath.

On the back of a horrific World Cup warm-up period, the England boss was probably wondering what he had done to deserve all of this.

But fast-forward six weeks, the heap of problems that were seemingly at Borthwick's door have been replaced by a challenge he very much wants to deal with.

Attack coach Richard Wigglesworth mentioned on Friday afternoon that England had been 'written off for a fair while now' so while internally they might be using some of the negativity of before the World Cup to fuel their fire, the fact is England are in a semi-final against South Africa, and anything can happen.

"They [the England players] should take a lot of confidence from what they’ve done so far, but that goes up a level this week," Wigglesworth added. "We know the size of the challenge in front of us and that’s a good thing, that we know the size of it and we’re excited about it. On Saturday night, we need to give the absolute best of ourselves and I’m sure we will."

During Friday's press duties, Wigglesworth was sat in between Elliot Daly and the aforementioned Curry, and the duo both have a wealth of big game experience under their respective belts.

For Curry, at 25, he has contrasting memories of facing the world champions. Two victories against the Springboks in 2018, one in 2021 and one during the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in the same year makes for good reading, but of course the major outlier is England's loss in the World Cup final four years ago.

"I've been lucky enough to experience both [winning and losing v South Africa]" said Curry. "I understand what it takes and it's going to be a lot so I can't wait to go after it this weekend.

"I have been really excited since the start of the week. We know the Springboks and they've developed their game. They've matured and we have as well. So I think this can be a clash where we have two very exciting teams going into it and we can't wait to go.

"That [defeat in the World Cup final] doesn't matter in terms of we have a very different team and they are a different team. It’s more about what I’ve learned from the past few weeks watching them. I think that's the main thing, which is they're a very good team."

On Saturday night, Curry will start in an England back-row which left their mark on their quarter-final win against Fiji with the Sale Shark lining up alongside Courtney Lawes and Ben Earl once again.

But it perhaps hasn't been a smooth journey to Paris for the 25-year-old. After his sending-off against Argentina, he returned to face Samoa in England's final pool game before making the headlines this week following his no-arms tackle on Fiji's Josua Tuisova last Sunday.

Tuisova's club - Racing 92 - were unimpressed that Curry had not been cited and the forward also avoided a sanction for another tackle on Levani Botia. Having missed all of England's World Cup warm-up games due to injury as well, the Sale star reflected on his whole tournament experience up to this point.

"It has been different to say the least but as I said last week, it has been exciting to be a part of this group," Curry added.  "I think the sign of this group is kind of where those guys who aren't in the squad are probably at.

"When we have been able to train and do all the other bits apart from play, it has been exciting. It has been brilliant to be a part of and I think that is a sign of where this group is at. I'd like to have played a few more minutes, who wouldn't? We are here, having a great time and we can't wait to get stuck in tomorrow."

While Curry will be embroiled in a physical battle up front against the might of the Springboks, Daly - along with fellow back three compatriots Jonny May and the returning Freddie Steward - will be tasked with dealing with South Africa's kicking game.

With rain expected in Paris on Saturday, the need to be squeaky clean under the high ball will come under even more scrutiny and Daly - who experienced playing at full-back against South Africa in 2018 - knows the challenge which awaits them.

"It's probably everyone's role [to deal with South Africa's kicking threats]," he said. "The back three are probably going to take most of these balls but it's for everyone around them to try and secure that breakdown after, as that's a massive thing, especially in the wet. It's an attitude thing, get up in the air, be brave in the air and we'll do that this Saturday."

So six weeks after beginning their World Cup campaign with that win over Argentina, England now find themselves on the cusp of another final. South Africa's phenomenal victory against hosts France last week only enhanced the aura around this Boks side but Borthwick's troops are here - and they are ready to try and topple the world champions.

"As a group, we've been good so far as we've not shied away from it; a semi-final is a semi-final - it's a great occasion," said Curry. 

"In terms of the motivating factor, it's a semi-final, where else would you rather be? The coaches have given us a great gameplan. You can see the excitement of the players and that will only build until tomorrow. It's come together nicely. Everyone is different, some people need to be calm, some need a kick up the arse. It's going to be really exciting, I can tell you that."