Sam Underhill broke the hearts of one New Zealander on his last appearance at Twickenham — and now has the whole nation in his sights.
His epic tackle on Scott Williams was given ‘miracle’ status after it condemned to defeat Warren Gatland’s Wales in February.
Nine months on, injury to Tom Curry is set to give the Bath openside his opportunity to thwart the world champion All Blacks.
“It’s not always about scoring,” said England co-captain Dylan Hartley, recalling how Williams was diving to touch the ball down when Underhill appeared from nowhere to flip him into touch. “Sometimes those are the ones that change games. It was a great tackle, a great show of will and commitment and not giving up to the very end.”
Owen Farrell hailed the hit as “unbelievable” and Sir Clive Woodward reckoned it was a one-in-100 tackle — which is roughly the chance most in rugby give England of knocking over New Zealand on Saturday.
Eddie Jones names his team on Thursday and Underhill, whom scrum coach Neal Hatley sees as a like-for-like replacement for Curry, is itching to get back to where he made his name.
“The Wales game was a huge day, one of my favourites,” said the 22-year-old. “Growing up, you want to play rugby for England at Twickenham and you want to be winning there.”
To trouble the All Blacks, Jones’ team will need to be aggressive in attack as well as defence and Maro Itoje has been tasked with leading the charge. Far from calling him out for conceding three penalties and being sin-binned in the first 15 minutes against South Africa, England have acclaimed his leadership example.
“Through his actions, Maro inspires people,” said Hatley. “Through his energy, he motivates people. He is the sort of player that doesn’t just dip his toe into the water. He bombs straight in and that is good to follow.”
In four successive Tests against the Springboks, Itoje has given up 10 penalties. Yet they prefer to see the qualities which were so key to the 2017 Lions beating New Zealand in Wellington – and had 30,000 fans chanting his name.
Hatley said: “With Maro, from the age of 20 or 21, the bar has been set unbelievably high – by himself more than anyone, because he wants to be the best in the world.
“One hundred per cent we could improve our discipline, and we have to. But that’s not just Maro, that’s us as a forward pack. We ask Maro to lead the charge and if you ask people to play that way, there are sometimes going to be penalties around that.”
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