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Sam Underhill compares England's 2021 newcomers to his 2017 debut

By Liam Heagney
Marcus Smith and Sam Underhill may both start for England this Autumn (Photo by Alex Davidson/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Sam Underhill has hailed the communication skills of the new England breed that stepped up to Test level rugby last weekend in the win over the USA at Twickenham. A dozen uncapped players make their first appearances and their composure left the 2019 World Cup final flanker impressed by what he saw. “In terms of nerves, I have been really impressed. It’s quite a young, new group. Really impressed with how everyone has gone about their business. There has not been too much talk about it, it’s mainly been on-field and during training. 


“The standards and quality of training have been really high and the young lads especially have brought so much energy. Also, how good they are at communicating at 20, 21 is really impressive, way better than I would have been four years ago. It’s been cool to see. In terms of nerves and messaging, I don’t think we have needed an awful lot. It has been a pretty self-directed group so far.”

Eddie Jones last week highlighted how the average length of an England player’s career at Test level is seven caps and he put it up to the new breed to go and beat that average. Underhill was the third most capped England player in last weekend’s matchday 23, his selection at No7 being the 23rd Test appearance of a career that began in Argentina four years ago.

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That was the last occasion when Jones backed so many new players, using the tour’s clash with the Lions’ trip to New Zealand as the reason to freshen things up. With the Lions now in South Africa with twelve England players, Jones has again turned to youth and multiple new caps to liven things up for the two-Test series that concludes next Saturday versus Canada. 

Set to turn 25 later this month, Underhill reflected how he got his first look-in four years ago and what advice he has given to the latest new crop on the England scene. “Four years ago was my first involvement. It was a great tour, a few lads started there with England. You can’t look too far ahead. You look at what is immediately in front of you and when you get an opportunity to be involved in a camp like this, it is imperative that you make the most of it because you never know what is around the corner.

“We speak quite a lot as a group about just being as good as we can be every day and trying to get better as rugby players – and that is all ultimately we can do as the selection is out of our hands. It’s a good environment to be in because it gives you something to get after straightaway. You don’t look too far in the future, what you have got to worry about is playing rugby and doing it well. It’s a good place to be. 


“I hope my best years aren’t behind me. It’s a really exciting group to be part of… there are 30-odd lads here. There is twelve away with the Lions and there are more lads out there that will be coming back at some point I am sure. It’s incredibly competitive but also really good-natured and good fun to be a part of.

“Defensively we said we were a bit disappointed to concede as many points as we did, especially at home in a game like that and the way we did. It was such a new group not having much time together but the relative cohesion we have got, especially relationship-wise, I have been really impressed with the way the lads have cracked on and got to know each other and that showed at least in parts on the pitch.”

Underhill also saluted his Bath clubmate Josh McNally, the soon-to-be 31-year-old England debutant who had a career in RAF before only coming to professional rugby in his mid-20s and subsequently overcoming a hole-in-the-heart issue while at London Irish. “It was awesome to see, thoroughly deserved. He is a really nice guy. He has come into rugby a bit later and it’s unbelievable how well he has done. He has been immense this year and it’s nice for him to get the opportunity and even better to share it with him on the pitch.” 



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