Mak­ing of ‘kamikaze kids’ Fam­i­lies re­veal sto­ries be­hind Un­der­hill and Curry

Sam Un­der­hill Foot­ball showed the way to time a per­fect tackle

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

Flanker’s par­ents tell Daniel Schofield he only started rugby at 13 but soon built a rep­u­ta­tion

Trac­ing the evo­lu­tion of how Sam Un­der­hill be­came the most de­struc­tive tack­ler in world rugby is like tug­ging on a thread of yarn. Just as you think it is about to fin­ish, you dis­cover that there is more.

To find its ori­gins, you must delve be­yond his days as a Uni­ver­sity of Cardiff fresher – where he watched the 2015 World Cup – and back to when he was play­ing for Sir Thomas Rich’s, a grammar school out­side Glouces­ter, and Lon­glevens, a ju­nior club.

At Lon­glevens, where he first started play­ing aged 13, Un­der­hill was soon be­ing with­drawn from matches at the op­po­si­tion’s re­quest. His rep­u­ta­tion also started to pro­ceed him at Thomas Rich’s. Their end-of-sea­son high­lights video fea­tures plenty of those same low, leg-driven tack­les that drove All Blacks re­place­ment Jordie Bar­rett back and down into the turf.

“We saw lots of those,” Rhys Wil­liams, rugby coach at Sir Thomas Rich’s, said. “It is that com­bi­na­tion of per­fect tim­ing and leg drive. It’s a beau­ti­ful thing to watch.” Even be­fore he started play­ing rugby, Un­der­hill was tim­ing his tack­les to per­fec­tion as a foot­ball full-back for Nether­ton Con­dors in Peter­bor­ough, then Church­down Pan­thers in Glouces­ter.

His fa­ther Greg, de­spite be­ing a rugby nut who only packed his boots away aged 52, told

The Daily Tele­graph it was a de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion to ex­pose his son to an­other sport. The Un­der­hills, it is clear, are not afraid of go­ing against the grain. “I was never a huge fan of kids start­ing too early in mini-rugby,” Greg said. “I threw a rugby ball around with him so he got the ball-han­dling skills, but wanted him to play foot­ball be­cause I thought that was a good sport to de­velop cer­tain skills.

“He played full-back and he learnt to time his tack­les ef­fec­tively. The tackle tech­nique is some­thing he has worked on, but his tim­ing is quite instinctiv­e. I al­ways knew he would end up play­ing rugby when he went to sec­ondary school.”

Born in Dayton,

Ohio, where Greg was sta­tioned with the RAF, Un­der­hill has been blessed in many re­spects. He was ex­posed to some ex­cel­lent coach­ing in his for­ma­tive years from Wil­liams, a for­mer Wales No8, and Rhys Davies at Sir Thomas Rich’s, as well as Ger­ard Jenk­ins, Rob Grif­fiths and for­mer Scot­land prop Pete Jones at Lon­glevens. He was also briefly taken un­der the wing of Pete Buxton at Glouces­ter.

Even more im­por­tantly, he was born into a fam­ily who prized fit­ness and hard work. The day af­ter Un­der­hill de­liv­ered his tour de force per­for­mance against New Zealand, his sis­ter Rachel ran the Stroud half marathon. She was the eighth fastest fe­male in a time of 1hr 27 min 14 sec. “They all run and he has the same en­gine,” Olivia, his mother, said. Greg even con­verted his garage into a gym for Sam to work out in when he was younger.

Un­der­hill placed just as much em­pha­sis on study­ing, and gained four A-lev­els in English lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture, maths and bi­ol­ogy. All three of his sis­ters went to uni­ver­sity and Un­der­hill wanted to fol­low suit. Glouces­ter, how­ever, would not al­low him to di­vert his fo­cus. So Un­der­hill chose to walk away from his home­town club and en­rol on an eco­nomics de­gree course at Cardiff. “We felt just re­ly­ing upon rugby at that age, as your only pro­fes­sion, puts so much pres­sure on you,” Greg said. “By go­ing to uni­ver­sity, but still play­ing rugby, it gave him an­other di­men­sion – if he was in­jured he could just be a stu­dent. We al­ways hoped he would be a pro­fes­sional rugby player, but felt that it would be bet­ter if he had other skills.” It was a re­mark­ably ma­ture de­ci­sion for a 19-yearold and one that proved the mak­ing of him. Ini­tially he signed to play for Brid­gend Ravens in the Welsh Pre­mier­ship, but with the Ospreys miss­ing sev­eral play­ers at the 2015 World Cup, his break came ear­lier than ex­pected. He was man of the match in his first start against Mun­ster and barely looked back. Dur­ing his sec­ond sea­son in Wales, he re­ceived a text mes­sage from Ed­die Jones ask­ing to meet at the Hil­ton in Cardiff. The head coach de­liv­ered a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally blunt ap­praisal and told him that to be con­sid­ered for na­tional duty he must re­turn to the Pre­mier­ship.

Un­der­hill moved back to the West Coun­try with Bath in 2017. He also re­alised he hated eco­nomics, so started a new de­gree, in pol­i­tics, at Bath. There is a long-stand­ing £50 bet with one of his sis­ters on whether he will grad­u­ate. Study­ing has been pretty tricky of late, but in an in­ter­view with The Tele­graph two years ago, Un­der­hill made the case that all play­ers should take fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion.

“It should be com­pul­sory for all play­ers, whether that is a uni­ver­sity course or learn­ing a prac­ti­cal skill like plumb­ing, while they are play­ing,” Un­der­hill said. “That’s im­por­tant not only be­cause the ca­reer is fairly fi­nite, but in terms of de­vel­op­ing as a person.”

All his sis­ters are high-achiev­ers. “They are al­most def­i­nitely the brains of the fam­ily,” Un­der­hill said. “I was si­mul­ta­ne­ously spoiled and bul­lied.” All three are fly­ing to Tokyo to watch their baby brother. Mother Olivia still can­not get over his or Eng­land’s per­for­mance in the semi-fi­nal, de­scrib­ing it sim­ply as “sur­real”.

Un­der­hill re­mem­bers watch­ing the last World Cup at a Cardiff fresh­ers’ bar. To be play­ing in the fi­nal has taken a lot of guts and won­der­ful tim­ing. Just like his tack­ling.


Dy­namic duo: Sam Un­der­hill (left) and Tom Curry have been out­stand­ing in Eng­land’s march to the World Cup fi­nal

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