Sam Un­der­hill

The young Eng­land flanker is brush­ing off the hype, says Alan Pearey

Rugby World - - CONTENTS -

It’s dif­fi­cult to say what is more im­pres­sive about sam un­der­hill: the bone-bruis­ing phys­i­cal­ity that he brought to the Ospreys or the ma­ture and mea­sured way he con­ducted him­self in a phone con­ver­sa­tion with RW? cer­tainly both as­pects sug­gest he’s a young man with a gi­ant fu­ture.

it’s a fu­ture that this month goes to another level as the 20-year-old vis­its Ar­gentina as part of Ed­die Jones’s Eng­land squad. un­der­hill is one of 15 un­capped play­ers but ar­guably only denny solomona’s in­clu­sion has at­tracted as much in­ter­est.

it’s 15 months since Jones met un­der­hill in a cardiff ho­tel and later de­clared he’d be in his squad within six months. the Rfu’s el­i­gi­bil­ity rule, that re­quires Eng­land play­ers to play in the coun­try, stopped that hap­pen­ing, but now this RAf of­fi­cers’ son has signed for Bath and it’s chocks away and ready for take-off.

if he’s feel­ing any pres­sure he doesn’t show it. “it’s nice get­ting praise but it’s pe­riph­eral,” un­der­hill says. “As a player you keep look­ing in, whether it’s a club or an international en­vi­ron­ment. You can only worry about what your team-mates or coaches think.

“Ar­gentina have a huge pedi­gree and this will be a very tough tour. they can play loose rugby but have a struc­tured game as well; they’ll be phys­i­cal, quick and skil­ful and i’ll be go­ing there with my eyes open.”

it would be un­der­stand­able if some of the hype had put a swag­ger in his stride. dump­ing Jamie Roberts on his der­rière in a Wales-Ospreys train­ing ses­sion started the mur­murs and out-hit­ting sean O’Brien in a cham­pi­ons cup tie raised their vol­ume.

in next to no time he was her­alded as the an­swer to Eng­land’s prayers at No 7, but he gives short shrift to such a no­tion. “Peo­ple should chill out a bit about Eng­land’s back row,” he says with feel­ing. “there are tons of very good back-rows in the Premier­ship, a wealth of No 7s and eights and sixes. in terms of tal­ent and po­ten­tial Eng­land are a very lucky team.

“i haven’t re­ally achieved any­thing yet. i’ve had a few de­cent games for the Ospreys but i’m far from the fin­ished ar­ti­cle. i’m only 20 and i hope i haven’t stopped de­vel­op­ing. i hope i’ve got more to come.”

un­der­hill was born in Amer­ica but still a toddler when the fam­ily re­lo­cated to Peter­bor­ough. Af­ter mov­ing on to Glouces­ter­shire at 11, he be­came a county shot put­ter. A great un­cle, Bernard ca­paldi, played for the Bar­bar­ians and his dad Greg was an oval-ball dis­ci­ple, so soon sam was turn­ing out for lon­glevens Rfc and his school, sir thomas Rich’s. “Rhys Wil­liams (ex-Wales) is coach there and i owe him a lot. i still get the odd text from him but that may stop if i play for Eng­land!”

His dad is a fit­ness freak – “he’s 57 and still try­ing to out-bench me” – and the garage gym he in­stalled at the fam­ily home helped sam pack a pow­er­ful punch into his 6ft 1in frame.

When the lions last as­sem­bled, he was tour­ing New Zealand as a school­boy with ‘tom­mies’. “it’s my favourite tour to date. You’d see a ham­let with three houses and there would be a set of rugby sticks up there! the peo­ple were so hos­pitable but on the pitch they’d try to take your head off.

“there aren’t many big Poly­ne­sians on the uK schools cir­cuit and they ran over the top of us but round us as well. it’s a pity i lost my iPhone when cy­cling to the gym as it had all my pho­tos on it.”

He was Man of the Match on his Eng­land u18 de­but and loved the free­dom of age-group rugby un­der John fletcher and Pete Wal­ton. But he is ef­fu­sive about so many peo­ple – from Jonny Wilkin­son to Justin tipuric to his three older sis­ters – that you know he’s one of life’s op­ti­mists.

Bath, where he plans to re­sume an eco­nomics de­gree that he be­gan at cardiff, will suit him. “their his­tory and rep­u­ta­tion speaks for it­self,” says un­der­hill, whose only Premier­ship action was in a Rec rout while at Glouces­ter. “they have awe­some play­ers and you need com­pe­ti­tion to bring out the best in you. there’s so much you can learn from play­ers like fran­cois louw and taulupe fale­tau.”

He cites tackle tech­nique and body height as work-ons but adds: “You try to turn weaker as­pects into strengths and strengths into su­per strengths. the break­down is like another set-piece, so you want to speed up your ball and slow down op­po­si­tion ball. it’s a sim­ple game.”

Per­haps, more ac­cu­rately, it’s a game that un­der­hill makes look sim­ple. don’t take your eyes off this young man.

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