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Getting to know: England U20s No8 Chandler Cunningham-South

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Liam Heagney)

Chandler Cunningham-South had a vibrant spring in his step when RugbyPass caught up with him on Thursday evening in Cape Town. Earlier that day he had been selected to start at No8 for England U20s in Saturday’s Junior World Championship opener versus Ireland in Paarl, but that wasn’t the only thing that was making him smile.

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It had also just been announced that the English-born, New Zealand-raised forward would be joining Harlequins for the 2023/24 season in a deal that was signed off 16 days after the RFU had suspended the financially stricken London Irish.

That agreement put an end to the stress and strife that had surrounded him since his appearance off the bench in the final London Irish match of the 2022/23 season, the May 6 win that clinched the Exiles their fifth-place finish.

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That anxiety isn’t completely alleviated. As it stands, Cunningham-South currently doesn’t have a place to live in London as he had to vacate the London Irish academy house after the club fell into administration. He is hoping that former housemate Will Joseph, who is also joining Harlequins, will get something sorted out soon.

This story of the fallout at London Irish is something that Cunningham-South spoke about during an exclusive 25-minute chat at the England team hotel in downtown Cape Town, an interview that will be published this Sunday.

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In the meantime, here are his answers to the quickfire section of our rendezvous, questions that provoked some intriguing responses such as why he doesn’t wear a gumshield, his sneaky pre-game McDonald’s, and why he would love a veterinary degree:

THE BASICS
Born: March 18, 2003;
Joined England age-grade: February 2022;
Club: Harlequins (signed last Thursday after the collapse of London Irish);
Position: Back row;
Boots: Nike Mercurial or Tiempo;
Gumshield: No. Don’t wear one. U used to. I just like to breathe. I haven’t found a good one yet that I like;
Headgear: No;
School: I went to Hamilton and Westlake Boys in New Zealand.

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RATE YOURSELF (out of 100)
Pace: I’ll be humble, I’ll say 68;
Passing: That’s not bad. I’d say 74;
Tackling: 82.

THE PAST
My favourite England player of all time is… That’s tough. I didn’t watch much England rugby growing up, that’s the thing. I don’t know the old ones. I’ll go Jason Robinson, he was pretty cool. Anthony Watson, I’ll go with him. The dreads when he was at the World Cup.

Favourite try I have ever scored is… Probably my first try for Irish, the Saracens one at Christmas time. That was cool.

A rugby memory that makes me smile is… Back in high school, sitting in McDonald’s with my dad before I went out to play my game. That’s the one that makes me smile. I was eating McDonald’s before a game in Hamilton. I was about 13, 14 at the time.

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The moment I realised I could make it is… After my Prem Cup debut against Leicester, I felt like I could. I just felt real good in the game and after that, I had a feeling that maybe this could be something potentially I could do.

One piece of advice I would give to my younger self is… Believe myself, back myself. Not everything is going to happen when you want it to happen but it will come.

My best subject in school was… PE (laughs). I was alright at social studies actually.

The first player who made me fall in love with rugby is… Alesana Tuilagi.

Growing up, my position was… I was No8, prop, centre, anywhere. Anywhere I could play on the field.

The coach who has most impacted my game is… I’d say Jonathan Fisher at London Irish. Just helped me develop because I was so like just raw. I just wanted to hit people and run hard, but he just brought it together a bit and made me have some more skills and have a more composed sort of game.

THE PRESENT
My favourite rising rugby player is… Similar age? I’ll say Will Joseph. Since I live with him, I have to say that (laughs). He is following me to Quins as well.

My best attributes on the field are… Carrying the ball and hitting people.

One thing I’m doing to improve my education is… Not at the moment.

My favourite current England player isAnthony Watson again.

My favourite YouTuber is… Beta Squad. It’s like a group. Or Nelk Boys. We’ll go with Nelk Boys.

My hardest working teammate is… At London Irish, it would have been Tom Pearson.

My most skilful teammate is… Paddy Jackson.

My favourite training drill is… Tackle tech.

My favourite music artist is… That’s tough. That is tough. One of the hardest. I’ll need to look at my playlist and see who is on the most. Let’s have a look [he whipped out his phone]. It has to be Burna Boy.

THE FUTURE
A player who could go all the way is… Cass Cleaves (Harlequins and England U20s).

If I could play with anyone, I would like to play with… That’s tough. Ardie Savea.

I will be happy with my career if I… That’s another tough question. I’d be happy if I am satisfied and I think I have done everything I can do in the game.

I want to make a difference by… Giving back.

One thing I want to add to my game is… Jumping more in the lineout.

If I could get a degree in anything I would choose… Veterinary. I like animals.

I would be a better player if I… These are tough questions, man. I’ll skip it. We’ll come back to that one.

If I could play in any other country, I would play in… Are we talking money or lifestyle? It would be cool to play in France.

One person I want to meet is… A lot of people. Does it have to be rugby? I’ll think about that one and come back.

One trophy I would love to win is… European Champions Cup.

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1 Comment
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Ian 376 days ago

Good to see he and Will are coming to my club, Quins. Their style will suit the club and vice versa.

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