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England explain two 'great changes' in Chandler Cunningham-South

By Liam Heagney
New England back-rower Chandler Cunningham-South (Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

England team manager Richard Hill has revealed two “great changes” seen in Chandler Cunningham-South since his initial return to play rugby in the country of his birth. The soon-to-be 21-year-old emigrated with his family to New Zealand at the age of four, returning 14 years later following an academy contract offer at London Irish.

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The teenage back-rower quickly got stuck into adult rugby, appearing for Esher in the national leagues, and a first-team Gallagher Premiership appearance for London Irish soon followed before he travelled with England U20s to the 2022 Summer Series in Italy.

Harlequins snapped Cunningham-South up for the 2023/24 season after 22 further games for the Exiles last year and now, seven months after playing for England age-grade at the Junior World Championship in South Africa, he has been capped twice off the Test-level bench by Steve Borthwick.

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The rookie has been the focus of a special 02 Inside Line episode leading into this weekend’s round three Guinness Six Nations match away to Scotland, with team boss Hill effusive in his praise for the fast-developing forward.

“Chandler came onto my radar as well as the U20s selectors from a guy called Jon Fisher, who was working at London Irish with him. He had notified us about the fact that he had started playing for Esher Rugby Club and followed that up with some highlight reels of his first game which was pretty impressive,” explained Hill.

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“Chandler has definitely developed as a player. Whilst there was noticeable skill set with the ball carry, that physicality in the carry, he has had to work incredibly hard over the last couple of years. It’s not only the physical nature of the contact, that first but into the tackle, but also how he remains strong with that carry and able to present the ball and it’s recyclable for quick ball.

“That’s been one of the great changes. Also alongside those clips I was sent early on was some of his early lineout development. I would say he is a much more dynamic jumper now and works incredibly hard to make sure that is a positive aspect of his offering to us as a team.”

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Cunningham-South referenced this lineout development when interviewed on the show. “With the lineouts and stuff, Maro (Itoje) has been a big help for me. So has Charlie Ewels, just explaining everything to me, and then Joey Lewis has helped me every night basically going through lineouts which has been a big help.”

The back-rower also reflected on his decision to quit New Zealand and come back to England. “It was a big, big change to come over here when I was 18 but it was an opportunity I felt I couldn’t really turn down.

“I felt like I would develop quickly over here and that has happened with a lot of help from guys like Jonathan Fisher pushing me in the right direction, guiding me and helping me to become a better rugby player and better person as well.

“Coming back as an 18-year-old to London I was a very raw player, very inexperienced player, didn’t really know much about the professional environment and what it was. I suppose I had to be confident to come over here and back myself to learn a lot and just soak it all up.

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“As a person as well, coming over I was a bit immature, probably wasn’t doing all the right things to be a professional rugby player. But since coming over here it has given me an extra focus on what I really want to achieve in life and I’m determined to get where I want to be.”

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