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Sam Underhill says Covid disruption is ‘part of the game now’ | England rugby union team


Sam Underhill says England are dealing with Covid disruption before their match against Australia on Saturday by facing the problem head-on. Their captain, Owen Farrell, sat out England’s opening autumn international victory over Tonga but produced a false-positive test result and has returned to training.

However, on Tuesday the prop Joe Marler was ruled out of facing the Wallabies after contracting the virus, with the 21-year-old uncapped Sale prop Bevan Rodd called up by Eddie Jones as replacement for Marler on the bench, providing loosehead cover for Ellis Genge.

Underhill believes England have become used to such 11th-hour changes and have the correct protocols in place – and a clean bill of health was reported on Wednesday “It’s part of the game now,” says the Bath flanker. “It’s part of life, as a squad we’ve got to be adaptable. Joe is a big character and we’ll miss him and I hope he’s all right.

“It’s better to address it than to try and ignore it and pretend it’s not there. That way we can deal with it. We had a good training session this morning after a little bit of disruption, so we’ve shown we can handle it.

“It’s one of those things, you try to control what you can control but we can’t control this. The lads are being careful and there’s a good level of protocol around the place to make sure we’re not losing players unnecessarily.”

Underhill, who picked up a knock before the break against Tonga and was replaced by Alex Dombrandt in England’s 69-3 romp, said there have been changes after the two Covid setbacks. “Whenever there is a positive or a threat everything does get a bit tighter and we’ve also got a job to do training-wise.”

Having Farrell back in training has been a boon, his presence bringing a welcome zest to the buildup to Wallabies, who England last faced in the bruising World Cup quarter-final win in October 2019. “He’s a brilliant guy to have around,” says Underhill. “He’s very influential, he’s a very motivational character, he works hard, drives people around him and he brings a good sense of calm.

“Courtney [Lawes] was excellent in stepping into that role last week, again a very chilled guy but he instils everyone with a lot of confidence.”

England’s attentions now turn to the challenging prospect of meeting a side smarting from their 15-13 defeat by Scotland at Murrayfield last Sunday but still ranked No 3 in the world. That England have beaten them seven times on the trot is not influencing Underhill’s preparations for a significant step up from Tonga.

“I don’t think form matters too much, it’s a bit of a hot-hand fallacy, you’ve got to turn up on the day,” he says. “What someone has done in a previous game doesn’t matter too much – you’re only as good as your next game.”

Regardless, any collision with Australia comes with an extra frisson and a fair dollop of mutual respect. “There’s a massive bit of competition there,” says Underhill. “It brings an emotional edge to the game, which in a contact sport is always a useful thing to have.”

Recollections of the 2019 World Cup quarter-final victory on Kyushu Island have dimmed somewhat but there are certain aspects of the Wallabies’ style that remain a constant. “It is a bit of a blur,” says Underhill. “I remember it being fast and there being a lot of ground to cover. They are a good attacking team and they have got some brilliant individuals who are very good at beating defenders.

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Wales name Jenkins as captain for Fiji clash


Cardiff flanker Ellis Jenkins will captain Wales in Sunday’s Autumn Nations Series clash against Fiji.
Jenkins delivered an outstanding performance on his return to Test rugby after a three-year injury absence when Wales were beaten narrowly by world champions South Africa last weekend.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has handed starts to Ospreys wing Alex Cuthbert – his first Wales appearance for four years – flanker Thomas Young and scrum-half Kieran Hardy, while Josh Adams moves from wing to centre, where he is partnered in midfield by Johnny Williams.

And there is a place on the bench for uncapped 19-year-old Exeter forward Christ Tshiunza, where he is joined by players such as Bristol fly-half Callum Sheedy and Ospreys prop Gareth Thomas.

Tshiunza, a second-row or back-row player, was born in DR Congo but moved to Wales in 2010 and is a product of Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, whose past pupils also include Sam Warburton, Gareth Bale and Geraint Thomas.

Wasps flanker Young’s call-up is the only change to the pack, although flanker Taine Basham switches to No 8 instead of an injured Aaron Wainwright.
Behind the scrum, Liam Williams makes a first start of the autumn campaign, lining up at full-back, with Dan Biggar again wearing the No 10 shirt. Cuthbert, meanwhile, wins his 49th cap, having last featured for Wales against Georgia in November 2017.

On Tshiunza’s selection, Pivac said: “He has come in and he has trained well. We are looking at him as a player, in the future, who can hopefully cover two positions, in the second-row and at six.

“We are really looking forward to seeing him out there. He will be full of energy, he is very excited about the opportunity and he is one for the future.” PA Media

Team: L Williams (Scarlets); A Cuthbert (Ospreys), J Adams (Cardiff), J Williams (Scarlets), L Rees-Zammit (Gloucester); D Biggar (Northampton), K Hardy (Scarlets); R Carre (Cardiff), R Elias (Scarlets), T Francis (Ospreys), W Rowlands (Dragons), A Beard (Ospreys), E Jenkins (Cardiff, capt), T Young (Wasps), T Basham (Dragons).
Replacements: B Roberts (Ulster), G Thomas (Ospreys), W John (Scarlets), C Tshiunza (Exeter), S Davies (Cardiff), T Williams (Cardiff), C Sheedy (Bristol), N Tompkins (Saracens).

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“In attack they are a very physical team and they hit the breakdown hard, that is what I remember from that, and they had Pocock and Hooper playing, brilliant 7s, brilliant back-rowers, both of them at every breakdown.”

The prospect of going toe-to-toe with Michael Hooper is certainly stirring Underhill, given the flanker has long been a source of inspiration. “He is one of the guys, as a young player, I would look up to,” says Underhill, an England regular under Jones since the 2017 summer tour of Argentina. “He has been outstanding for a long time so it is great to play able to play against a guy like that.”

After Saturday’s meeting with Australia, England’s final autumn international will be against the world champions, South Africa, at Twickenham on 20 November.

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