Bath flanker in­sists Eng­land will be fly­ing come Six Na­tions

The Rugby Paper - - News - By NEALE HAR­VEY

SAM Un­der­hill says Eng­land will be ‘fly­ing’ come Six Na­tions time af­ter strik­ing the right bal­ance be­tween work and play dur­ing an im­proved Au­tumn cam­paign.

De­struc­tive flanker Un­der­hill was one of the stand­out fig­ures dur­ing a suc­cess­ful Novem­ber cam­paign in which Ed­die Jones’ side de­feated South Africa, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia and came within an ace of up­set­ting world cham­pi­ons New Zealand be­fore go­ing down 16-15.

Un­der­hill was de­nied what could have been a late win­ning try against the Ki­wis af­ter TMO Mar­ius Jonker ruled Courtney Lawes off­side. How­ever, the Bath man says that can­not be al­lowed to de­tract from a hugely en­cour­ag­ing Red Rose re­vival. Un­der­hill told The Rugby

Pa­per: “The promis­ing thing against New Zealand was that while we weren’t happy with the re­sult, com­ing af­ter the win over South Africa it was a good state­ment of where we are and where we’ve got room for im­prove­ment.

“It was a good month and we struck a great bal­ance be­tween work­ing re­ally hard and en­joy­ing it. It was by far the most I’ve en­joyed be­ing away with Eng­land.

“It was just a great group of guys who were all chip­ping in for each other and I think that showed both in the per­for­mances and off the pitch, where guys were gen­uinely a lit­tle bit gut­ted to be leav­ing each other at the end, hav­ing es­tab­lished those strong bonds.

“It wasn’t per­fect, we know that, but the mes­sage from Ed­die and coaches is we’ve shown where we are and we’ve got much more to come and fur­ther to go.

“As a group we need to keep get­ting bet­ter now and if we can do that ev­ery time we come to­gether from now on­wards, we know we can re­ally go some­where in 2019. That’s the re­ally promis­ing thing and we’ll all be ready to fly into the Six Na­tions now.”

Hav­ing over­come the con­cus­sion and toe is­sues that dis­rupted last sea­son and cost him a sum­mer tour place in South Africa, Un­der­hill used the time off to de­velop phys­i­cally, hone his tackle tech­nique and be a big­ger in­flu­ence around the park.

That came to bear in star­ring roles against New Zealand and Aus­tralia, where Un­der­hill out­played highly-vaunted open­side ri­vals Ardie Savea and Michael Hooper.

He said: “The ex­pe­ri­ence was fan­tas­tic and I gained a lot of con­fi­dence from it and gained more of an insight into what it takes to win at that level and be suc­cess­ful play­ing in it.

“You play against good play­ers so that’s very sat­is­fy­ing but, more im­por­tantly per­haps, there are so many good play­ers in the Eng­land set-up and they’re there for a rea­son. Guys like Owen Far­rell are driv­ing stan­dards in train­ing and do­ing all their work off the pitch, be­ing dili­gent about what they eat and about how they’re look­ing

af­ter their bodies.

“You pick up those habits and those play­ers drag ev­ery­one up with them, so that was one of my big­gest take-outs – see­ing what these guys do, how they do it and where it can lead to. I’ve de­vel­oped a lot but it showed how much more I can still do.”

While Un­der­hill made a strong case for ce­ment­ing his place, he is quick to ac­knowl­edge the back row com­pe­ti­tion he faces, not least of all from Sale No.7 Tom Curry who started against South Africa but is side­lined un­til the New Year with an an­kle in­jury.

“The com­pe­ti­tion is pretty good,” said Un­der­hill. “I was gut­ted for Tom to be out and I’m sure he’ll be back even bet­ter and will use this as mo­ti­va­tion to push for a start­ing spot again, but that’s great news for Eng­land.

“With Mark Wil­son show­ing his ver­sa­til­ity and Brad Shields as well, it was a very com­pet­i­tive spot to fight for on the flank and I think that brought out the best in all of us.

“With Chris Rob­shaw to come back and oth­ers who could come into con­tention, Ed­die’s got some great op­tions there.”

Ire­land’s suc­cess in beat­ing New Zealand means they will start the Six Na­tions as favourites, with Eng­land first-up in Dublin on Fe­bru­ary 2.

By way of an early taster, Un­der­hill’s Bath wel­come Le­in­ster this Sat­ur­day and a back row that could con­tain Ire­land stars Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy and Jack Co­nan.

He said: “Ire­land de­serve all the plau­dits they’ve been get­ting. They’ve been phe­nom­e­nal this Au­tumn and they’re clearly a very good out­fit who, like us, en­joy spend­ing a lot of time with each other and are a pretty tight-knit group.

“It’s go­ing to be a hell of a chal­lenge next week­end and then again in the Six Na­tions, but these are the chal­lenges you rel­ish and we aim to do re­ally well.”

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

In­flu­en­tial: Sam Un­der­hil on his way to the line against New Zealand be­fore the TMO call

Back row com­pe­ti­tion:

Out un­til New Year: Sale Sharks Tom Curry

Mark Wil­son, Brad Shields and Chris Rob­shaw

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