Scottish Daily Mail


Underhill’s tackle in a million keeps Eddie’s Slam bid on track


THE MAN whose astonishin­g act of never-say-die defiance rescued England from the threat of a first home defeat under Eddie Jones revealed afterwards that he was driven by ‘sheer panic’.

Sam Underhill confounded logic and reason and physics on Saturday at Twickenham. Just after the hour, Wales were on the charge and the hosts were manning the barricades in a desperate bid to protect their lead — having not scored a point themselves for more than 40 minutes.

Warren Gatland’s side surged into space on their left flank and Scott Williams found himself with a straight, short run to the corner. A try seemed inevitable. It never came.

The Scarlets centre tried to use the wet surface to his advantage with an early slide for the line, but Underhill somehow managed to flip him over, into touch by the flag, even though the ball-carrier was so low that all he could do was fling his trailing right arm at him, as hard as possible.

Williams is a sturdy customer, so forcing him off the field, without the driving force of a proper hit with the shoulder, was a staggering feat. It encapsulat­ed the English rearguard action which propelled them to a record 15th consecutiv­e home Six Nations win. They had to hang on, but hang on they did.

Underhill came on at half-time, as a replacemen­t for the injured Sam Simmonds, for his championsh­ip debut. The rookie flanker is already renowned for his tackling prowess, but this was on another level — an instant addition to Twickenham folklore. And it all stemmed from the fear he felt when he lost his footing seconds earlier. ‘I think they were on our 22 and I remember slipping over — then I remember sheer panic,’ he said. ‘Then I remember just pegging it to the corner because I’ve slipped over and they had an overlap. I’m so glad I made it in time. I wish it was more than that, but it honestly wasn’t.

‘You’re looking for a technique behind it, but it’s a rare occurrence and it’s the same as most tackles; it’s just your intent to get there, your attitude and what you do before that I guess is important.’

Underhill’s own modesty was off-set by the awe of his teammates. They were in no doubt about the magnitude of the tackle that kept England’s title challenge on track, on a wet and wild day which saw Wales push them to the brink.

‘That tackle by Sam Underhill was unbelievab­le; one of the best you’ll see,’ said Owen Farrell. ‘He (Williams) dove early, but it was slippy, so he might have got there. But it was a proper contact by Sam. Normally, people get there and try to get them into touch. He got in close, flipped him over and didn’t even give him the chance to place the ball. He’s a tackling machine.’

Farrell delivered a crucial hit of his own soon afterwards, to stop the rampaging Aaron Shingler in his tracks and force a knock on – leading to a fist-pumping celebratio­n. And at the end, when it had become a one-score game, England collective­ly held the line to deny Wales the platform to go for glory. A final-quarter tactical shift, to stop contesting breakdowns, proved effective.

Gareth Anscombe’s switch to fly-half ignited Wales’ second-half revival and Shingler galloped around Twickenham like he owned the place. But those in white showed dogged resilience. Joe Launchbury kept making tackles and hitting rucks, in a herculean effort to go with the magical offload he produced earlier to create Jonny May’s second try. Chris Robshaw was another who just never stopped grafting, as ever.

Further back, George Ford demonstrat­ed all his awareness and canny decision-making. One clever, delayed pass to send Farrell bursting clear came just as he was shaping to kick but spied a mismatch and quickly changed the play, on the hoof.

Alongside him, Farrell was a beacon of aggression, intensity and tenacity, having started the game with a great diagonal kick for May’s first try. Eddie Jones later said of Farrell: ‘I was impressed by his leadership, his toughness, his will to win… he was absolutely outstandin­g.’

The same words could have been said of Mike Brown, who was in his element – commanding in the air and on the turf; breaking tackles and making ground repeatedly.

Much of the aftermath of this match was dominated by raging debate over the TMO’s decision not to award Wales a try in the first

half. For the record, this observer’s view is that the visitors were robbed. It should have been given. But, the better team won and there is every reason to suspect that even if the TMO had not blundered, Jones’ side would have found a way to prevail.

Next up for England is a Calcutta Cup showdown with Scotland at Murrayfiel­d on February 24. There is much for them to work on, after a scoreless last hour against Wales which left them in a fight to the finish – never part of the master plan. But they will head north of the border as favourites.

While Gatland and his men could take comfort from their second-half surge and the emergence of depth across the board, Jones was satisfied by the varied victories his team have secured so far.

‘We’re two from two,’ said the Australian. ‘We won with a bonus point in Rome and the other game was an arm wrestle that we managed to win, so we’ve had the experience of a loose game and a tight game.’

It was certainly tight on Saturday, but the Jones boys rumble on thanks to Underhill and his panic-stricken interventi­on.

 ?? CHRIS FOY at Twickenham ??
CHRIS FOY at Twickenham

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