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England statement: The Rugby World Cup call-up of Sam Underhill

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Sam Underhill has been called up to the England Rugby World Cup squad in place of the injured Jack Willis. The French-based Willis, who has been playing his club rugby for Toulouse since last November following the collapse of Wasps, picked up a neck injury in the September 23 Pool D tournament win over Chile in Lille.

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Willis was a try-scorer in that fixture and his high work rate saw him put his hand up for further involvement at the World Cup. However, he was unable to shake off his short-term knock and a decision was taken last Wednesday and publicly announced the following day that he had left the squad.

Borthwick explained on Thursday evening the next steps that were happening regarding flying in a replacement in time for the start of England’s preparations in Marseille ahead of their October 15 quarter-final, most likely versus Fiji.

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The head coach then said post-game versus Samoa on Saturday night that he still wasn’t in a position to publicly confirm the identity of who he would be calling.

This situation, though, was finally cleared up on Sunday lunchtime with the confirmation that Underhill, a starter in the 2019 World Cup final who was released from Borthwick’s 2023 training squad in mid-July, was now belatedly coming to the finals.

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A statement read: “Sam Underhill has been added to England’s Rugby World Cup squad in France. The Bath Rugby back row forward replaces Jack Willis and will join up with the squad in Lille today [Sunday] ahead of England’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Sunday, October 15, in Marseille.”

Underhill is the third alteration to Borthwick’s squad of 33 originally announced on August 7 for the tournament.  Alex Mitchell replaced Jack van Poortvliet and Jonny May came in for Anthony Watson before the trip to France after they picked up respective ankle and calf injuries.

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Defence coach Kevin Sinfield explained: “One door closes for someone and another one opens. Sam was outstanding with us during the summer. He trained the house down and unfortunately, for whatever reason which we won’t share with you guys, he didn’t stay with us.

“We followed him closely, we have kept in touch. He is a Test-match animal, he is a fantastic player and it shows some of the quality we have got back in England. We are delighted he is able to join us.

“It is a like-for-like replacement for Jack and he brings some small differences but there are many similarities. He is a great character as well. He knows what it’s like to play well at World Cups, he has done it previously. He brings a great deal of experience too.”

The assistant also provided medical updates on Manu Tuilagi and Jamie George post the Samoa game. “I have just been told that they have both got the all-clear.”

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