It’s been class – Sam Underhill delighted to be back as main man for England

Sam Underhill is savouring his England revival having feared his international career might already be over.

Underhill is poised to win his 34th cap in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Ireland at Twickenham after returning to favour under Steve Borthwick – a comeback he views as a personal triumph.

Still only 27, the big-hitting Bath flanker missed 20 successive Tests from the second match of the 2022 tour to Australia because of a combination of concussion and selection.

But a sliding doors moment arrived when Jack Willis sustained a neck injury in last autumn’s World Cup and Underhill was propelled straight into the back row for the bronze final against Argentina.

Sam Underhill is the defensive kingpin in England's backrow
Sam Underhill is the defensive kingpin in England’s backrow (Mike Egerton/PA)

A defensive masterclass consisting of 24 tackles resulted in the man of the match award and now that he has played four consecutive Tests, he grants himself a moment of recognition.

“It’s been class. All I wanted to do was to get back into this team and, if I’m perfectly honest, I was doubtful that that would happen,” Underhill said.

“This is the first time I’ve done a full campaign with Steve, under him as a coach. I played in the Aussie tour and then didn’t I play again until the third-fourth play-off, which was 18 months.

“My aim personally was to get back here. Now that I am, as a player you’re constantly looking for challenges, or things to go wrong or not be going that well.

“Whereas actually now, I am where I want to be and while I want to keep on improving, I have taken a moment to say to myself, ‘hey, you’re doing it, well done’.

“I’m not just content to be here, I want to win with this team and help and perform as well as I can for them. It’s been class.”

Underhill’s standing among his team-mates was evident in July when Ben Earl spoke of the “shock” that rippled through the squad when the destructive openside was dropped early in the build-up to the World Cup.

As one of half of Eddie Jones’ ‘Kamikaze Kids’ who lit up Japan 2019, he was expected to travel to France having proven he can thrive on the greatest stage of all.

Instead, he was consigned to playing in the Premiership Rugby Cup for Bath in what was a test of his ability to rationalise the vagaries of selection.

“It would be remiss of me, and certainly any player, to think that they have to be in any team,” Underhill said.

“I respect the other players too much to say ‘I should be there’. A decision’s going to have to be made at some point, someone’s going to miss out.

“But someone missing out doesn’t mean they are a bad player. You’re not a better player for being picked than not being picked, or for getting a contract or not getting a contract. That’s the hard thing to get your head around sometimes.

“A lot of people talk about being process-driven but that’s easier said than done. When you aren’t picked, the ability to think that this isn’t actually a reflection of where I am, is important but tough.

“You’re allowed to be disappointed if you’re not selected, you’re allowed to be upset. What isn’t great for you is if you then let that affect your behaviour and let that affect your actions that come afterwards.”

Borthwick names his team to face Ireland at lunchtime on Thursday with England looking to bounce back after a comprehensive defeat to Scotland in round three.