Western Morning News
England’s Underhill forced to withdraw
ENGLAND have suffered another setback ahead of their Guinness Six Nations title defence after Sam Underhill was withdrawn from Eddie Jones’ squad because of a hip injury.
Underhill would have started the opening fixture against Scotland at Twickenham on February 6 but he could now miss the entire tournament. Jack Willis has been named as his replacement.
News of his injury comes the day after prop Joe Marler pulled out of the 28-man squad to be with his family during the coronavirus pandemic and Joe Launchbury learned he would sit out the first three rounds with a broken leg.
Willis has been promoted from England’s 12-strong ‘shadow squad’ and will compete with Ben Earl and Mark Wilson for the vacancy created by Underhill’s absence.
Lewis Ludlam fills Willis’ slot in the second group of players, who are subject to the same Covid-19 testing procedures as the 28 in the event that injuries mean new personnel must be brought in.
Alec Hepburn and David Ribbans add depth at loosehead prop and lock to the shadow squad in the wake of the withdrawal of Marler and Launchbury.
Underhill’s unavailability is a headache for Jones, who is now forced to break up his preferred back row featuring the big-hitting Bath openside, Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola.
Earl is seen as an ideal option for the bench given that he can cover six, seven and eight, but Wilson is also versatile and has been resurgent for Newcastle this season.
Meanwhile, Jones insists England will play whatever style of rugby it takes to be successful even if that means kicking their way to another Six Nations title.
Owen Farrell’s team swept all before them last year, winning the Championship and Autumn Nations Cup after slipping to only one defeat in nine Tests, a run that cements second place in the global rankings.
Thrills were in short supply, however, as matches were dominated by defence, kicking and setpiece in a trend evident across most international teams.
“Maybe we haven’t played as well as we could have - and we want to play better,” Jones said. “Our goal in the Six Nations is to play better rugby. It doesn’t matter how many times you kick the ball, it’s the quality of rugby you play.
“We want to play good, effective rugby. And effective rugby is getting the ball to the other end of the field and scoring points. That is the currency we play by.
“If we can do it by running and passing and being attractive, then we want to do that. If we can do it by kicking, we will do it that way.”