Bath flanker insists England will be flying come Six Nations
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.”
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