6N: Underhill wiser on the England-Scotland rivalry
EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Sam Underhill knew the England-Scotland rivalry was special.
Not until he was in the middle of it, however, did he begin to understand how special.
Underhill was 21 and had five England caps to his name when he came to Edinburgh for the annual Calcutta Cup match in the 2018 Six Nations.
“It was my first insight into the emotion of the occasion and I was naive to it before,” Underhill said on Friday.
“We were getting booed off the bus, and then the reaction of the Scotland players when they won, seeing the crowd and how much it means to everyone up here …
“It’s definitely something to acknowledge and it’s definitely there — you can’t ignore it — especially when it’s as loud as Murrayfield is. But that’s to be embraced as a player.”
Underhill is back in Edinburgh, not as a reserve but as a starter, for Saturday’s latest instalment in rugby’s oldest international rivalry.
The openside flanker is older, wiser, bigger, and hungrier after failing with England in Paris in the first round of the Six Nations. Expectations were high of an England win over a young France side, but it was the novices who subdued England 24-0 before winning 24-17.
England is out to revive its title ambitions, and regain the Calcutta Cup for the first time since 2017.
“For us the pressure is on, which is something you can ignore and try to play down or something you can embrace,” Underhill said.
“We’re incredibly hungry. In terms of last week, especially, when you have a disappointing result you want nothing more than another game.
“The fact it happens to be a Calcutta Cup is probably even better for us because there’s more pressure and ultimately that’s something you need to perform at your best.”
Underhill has been performing for years. Born in the United States while his father was stationed there for the RAF, Underhill returned to England at 10 and discovered an affinity for rugby: He liked to tackle, and was good at rucking and mauling.
Natural instincts, a fierce drive, and good coaching got Underhill into the England Under-16s, and he captained the under-18s. He debuted for Gloucester as a schoolboy in 2014, and played in the Premiership the following year.
But Gloucester didn’t want him to play rugby and go to university, so he left for Cardiff University and played for Ospreys alongside Wales flanker Justin Tipuric.
His form was noticed by England coach Eddie Jones, who met Underhill at a Cardiff hotel and persuaded him to return to the English Premiership.
Jones also gave Underhill his first cap on the tour of Argentina in June 2017. He won his first five tests, until he went to Murrayfield two years ago and thrown into the. Family and friends haven’t let him forget it.
“I’ve got a Scottish grandmother, a Scottish brother-in-law and one of my other sister’s boyfriends is Scottish, so I just turn my phone off before the game,” he said with a smile.
“It’s good to have bit of an edge to a game. That edge will add to the sense of occasion.”