Underhill relishing World Cup battle against ‘Pooper’ combination
England’s ‘Kamikaze Kids’ face Australia’s feared ‘Pooper’ combination in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final admitting the Wallabies duo served as inspiration when growing up.
Tom Curry and Sam Underhill played together for the first time in the record win over Ireland in August and their impact at the breakdown, when carrying and in defence has seen them installed as Eddie Jones’ preferred flankers.
At Oita Stadium they will collide with David Pocock and Michael Hooper, the veteran twin opensides who have operated in tandem to great effect since 2012, amassing 180 caps between them.
Comparisons have been drawn between the rival back rows and Underhill understands why.
“We’re very much looking forward to it,” said the Bath forward, who is one half of the pair dubbed ‘Kamikaze Kids’ by Jones in recognition of the destruction they cause in training.
“You want to challenge yourself against the best on the world and it’s fair to say they’re two world-class opensides.
“They’re players who Tom and I when we were growing up and coming through looked at and inspired to be like, so it’s a bit surreal to be coming up against them now.
“There are similarities between us in some ways. In the game now, everyone is expected to do everything.
“The traditional roles when you have a specialist seven or blindside or eight….yeah people have still got their strengths in certain areas but you have to be able to do everything.
“Even as a seven you’re expected to be carrying, good at set-piece, good in defence and in the breakdown.
“That’s probably why you see more sides picking two sevens because sevens can now do more, just as your sixes and eights can do more.”
Underhill’s excitement is shared by Jones, who played opensides George Smith and Phil Waugh together when Australia coach.
“It’s going to be a great contest. Pocock has probably over the last 10 years been the foremost number seven in the world,” Jones said.
“Hooper is a massively important player for Australia, he’s a link player, takes the ball forward a lot once they get inside the opposition’s 22.
“He’s obviously a key leader for the team, but our two young boys are just getting better every game. It’s going to be a battle at the breakdown.
“Curry’s has improved his line-out jumping immensely over the last six or eight weeks and Underhill’s probably the most combative seven I’ve seen for a long time.”
Underhill wears the seven jersey with Curry operating at blindside flanker where his additional size and height are better suited.
“Being combative lends itself to the position. It’s a physical position and not the most glamorous of work at times but sometimes it’s not about line breaks, miss passes or kicks in behind,” Underhill said.
“It’s pretty gritty and unglamorous work. You’ve got to enjoy that and you’ve got to see how what you’re doing contributes to the team.
“When the guys are scoring out wide it’s usually because the forwards have done something good in the middle, something that’s fairly dull to watch but that creates special moments in the game.”