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Zimbabwe to the Ireland U20s - Angus Curtis following in family footsteps

The 19-year-old Ulster midfielder has now been joined by his younger brother, Graham, in Ireland.

THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT the Curtis family that can’t keep them away from Ireland, even though they have made their home 13,000km away in Zimbabwe.

19-year-old Angus Curtis is the latest in his bloodline to represent Ireland, following in the footsteps of his father, David, and his grandfather, Arthur Bryan – both of whom played in the green jersey at senior level.

Angus Curtis Angus Curtis has impressed for the Ireland U20s in recent weeks. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Angus is currently part of the Ireland U20s squad but judging by his performances in recent Six Nations games for the underage national side, he looks a good bet to emulate his relatives and win caps at the top level.

Curtis, who grew up in Zimbabwe before being schooled at the prestigious Hilton College in South Africa, is now part of Ulster’s academy after moving to Ireland in January, 2017 to pursue his dream of playing for Ireland.

Intriguingly, his younger brother, Graham – an exciting scrum-half who also came through Hilton and played for the Sharks U18 team – has now also moved to Ulster to join their academy set-up.

The prospect of both Curtis boys playing for Ireland in the future is a real one, if they can fulfill their rich promise.

“It was,” says Angus when asked if it was always the hope to play for Ireland, rather than Zimbabwe or South Africa.

“My Dad played for Ireland, so from a young age, it was always in the back of my mind. You can’t really make a decision that early but at the end of school, my last year in Hilton was really good so I wanted to push on and give rugby a crack.

“It was then an easier decision to come over here.”

His grandfather, back row Arthur Bryan, won three caps for Ireland in 1950, playing against France, England and Scotland, and setting the Curtis family in action in green.

Source: SKRAPN3L/YouTube

David, a centre, earned 13 caps for Ireland in 1991 and 1992 – taking in the ’91 Rugby World Cup, where they narrowly lost to Australia in the quarter-finals.

Coincidentally or not, David’s only try for Ireland came against Zimbabwe – where he was born and where he now runs the Stables Winery close to the town of Harare.

Naturally enough, David has proven a fine rugby mentor for Angus and Curtis, as well as their older brother, Simon.

“From a young age – he hasn’t forced me into it, but he’s kind of slowly guided me into it,” explains Angus, who is playing club rugby for Queen’s University, where he is also studying for a degree in Economics with Finance.

“He’s been out of the game for a long time but he’s always given me lots of support and my little brother, older brother, all of us have played rugby so it’s always been in the family.”

And does he ever show his sons the old match footage from 1991?

“He did! But it’s all on videotape so we can’t watch it! Whenever it comes up on the TV he flippin’ calls all three of us in and says ‘watch how it’s done!’”

Curtis has been playing at inside centre for the Ireland U20s, and it looks like his future may lie in that position, but he was an impressive young out-half and captain during his years at Hilton College – who also produced Springbok captains Bobby Skinstad and Gary Teichmann, among others.

Indeed, the 10 shirt is Curtis’ preferred one and he rates Dan Carter as his favourite player when he was growing up.

Curtis was selected for the Sharks U18s team, showing his class at the famous Craven Week in 2016, a competition in which the best schoolboys in South Africa go head-to-head as part of their provincial sides.

Angus Curtis scores a try Curtis scores a try against Wales last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Schoolboy rugby in South Africa is really big and Hilton obviously prides themselves on their rugby and all their sports in general,” says Curtis, who played for the Ireland U19s last year. “The coaches there and the mentoring system, everything – it’s massive preparation for coming here.

“Physicality-wise, South African rugby players are big boys and there’s a massive emphasis on the physical side of the game. That did make coming over, especially going into club rugby and the next level of rugby, easier.”

The move to Ireland came with challenges, of course, but with the IRFU keen to bring a young man who saw himself as wholly Irish back into their system, the opportunity was very clear too.

Having his younger brother, 18-year-old Graham, in Ulster now too will make the experience more comfortable, but Angus is a determined young man who will work as hard as possible to achieve his goal of senior caps for Ireland.

For now, he is focused on helping Noel McNamara’s U20s to finish out their Six Nations strongly in clashes with Scotland and England.

A 41-38 defeat to Wales last weekend was deeply frustrating, even if it did allow players like Curtis to show their quality. He was incisive, intelligent and powerful in the 12 shirt, scoring a well-taken first-half try and generally exuding composure.

So while finding a so-far elusive 80-minute performance and shoring up their leaky defence are crucial for the U20s, Curtis is enjoying every minute of his experience.

Angus Curtis on his way to scoring a try Curtis on the charge against the Welsh. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Training against Joe Schmidt’s senior Ireland team twice in recent weeks is just another taste of what might be to come for him if he can keep his head down and improve with Ulster in the coming years.

“It’s been awesome,” says Curtis of his life in Ireland so far. “Any time you get to put on your country’s jersey, it’s an awesome experience.

“Being in the set-up, from the camps four months ago to the build-up now, training with the seniors, the exposure and the whole experience is awesome. Everyone here is loving it.”

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Murray Kinsella

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