It’s hard to understand why lunch with Sam Underhill is deemed a fate worse than death by most of this England squad, writes Charlie Talbot-Smith.
The Bath flanker, and his new sidekick Tom Curry, are clearly persona non grata at meal times out here in Japan, their company is clearly not viewed as engaging enough.
So much so, that one of the fines on tour for the squad is to be forced to take this odd couple out for a meal at the recipient’s expense.
And yet 15 minutes in Underhill’s company on Tuesday fairly flies by as the Bath man talks openly and honestly about the incoming typhoon, England’s back-row blend and his potential first-ever meeting with France.
But before getting into all of that, it’s best to start with the big question. Why don’t any of his teammates want to have a sit down with him and Curry?
“It remains a mystery. I honestly couldn’t tell you. It’s baffling,” laughs the 23-year-old.
“I think the reason is that our skinfolds are quite low, so we can eat what we want without getting fat.
“Whereas some of the larger lads, you wouldn’t want to take them to a fast food joint and them not be able to eat anything.
“That’s what I am going to go with. I have spoken to my legal counsel, and they said that’s the best answer to go with for now.”
Speak to Underhill’s teammates however, and they will tell a different story.
Curry has already confessed that their teammates find them ‘weird’ and fines-master Joe Marler has doled out the punishment.
Indeed, one of the other fines is to help the backroom staff with the USG tests.
To us mere mortals that is a ‘Urine Specific Gravity’ test to find out how hydrated each squad member is.
In layman’s terms, the man being punished has to help the coaches handle the newly-filled pots of pee each morning.
“It isn’t a brilliant job to help out with,” admits Underhill.
But surely the 23-year-old must take some offence that a meal with him is deemed a similar level of punishment to handling what he calls ‘nice warm pots’ in the morning?
“It’s awesome, I think it is such a good dynamic and I genuinely mean that,” he adds.
“Everyone cops a fair bit of flak. Some are easier targets than others. Tom (Curry) and I take it and don’t offer an awful lot back in retaliation.
“We are just too nice. We are happy to play up to it. We are just happy to be here to be honest.
“The boys can give me as much flak as they like, I am just glad I am involved.
“Everyone plays their part, if my part is to unify lads in them getting stuck into me then so be it.
“In the words of whoever wrote Hot Fuzz, it is all for the greater good.”
Off the pitch they might be the butt of the jokes, but on it the young flankers – Eddie Jones’ self-styled Kamikaze Kids – are leading the way.
With a maturity that belies their tender years, the duo have dovetailed to deadly effect so far this tournament.
When Billy Vunipola limped off at half time against Argentina and Lewis Ludlam came on, the back row had a combined tally of only 30 caps.
Ludlam was also the eldest of the trio and he does not turn 24 until Christmas.
So how do this young wrecking crew continue to rough up old timers?
“That is down to the squad dynamic. We don’t really feel the difference between an inexperienced player or an experienced one,” adds Underhill.
“Everyone is made to feel responsible for themselves and for contributing to the group.
“It is not like: ‘oh he is a young player so there is less expectation.’ If anything there is more expectation. Everyone has got responsibility to deliver and to be part of the team. Seniority does not come into it that much.”
But can they cope without Vunipola again this weekend against France?
The No.8 is likely to miss out as England seek to ascertain the extent of the ankle injury he sustained against the Pumas.
Anyone who thinks you can’t smash ball carriers legally and low, watch Sam Underhill for a few minutes.— David Flatman (@davidflatman) October 5, 2019
But Underhill is not concerned.
He added: “The average weight of the pack drops by about 40kg (without Billy)! He is a massive ball carrier for us and is such a talented player for us, he has such a phenomenal skillset.
“But we have talented players in every position on the pitch and are pretty strong group in terms of strength in depth.
“You would like to think that any one player being omitted would not damage our chances, you cannot rely on that.
“You have to try and build a team that is more than the sum of its parts and I think that is where we are at.”
Le Crunch this weekend is a strange game for England, and a rarity at this stage of a World Cup where so much is on the line for so many other nations.
But despite both sides already having advanced to the knockout stages, Underhill is not lacking motivation – even if Typhoon Hagibis is threatening to disrupt preparations.
He added: “We haven’t seen it, and there are not many meteorologists within the group so I don’t think the boys would have a clue anyway.
“We can’t ask it to turn around, we are just ready for whatever happens.
“I don’t think it will be hard to get up for (the game) at all. The simple way to look at it is that it’s another game for England. That is a massive responsibility, a massive privilege for us.
“It didn’t stop us from being motivated in the warm-up games, there was in theory nothing to play for there but the boys put in massive performances and there was a huge amount of pride in it.”
And despite having never faced France at senior level, Underhill does have some idea of what is coming their way.
“I did play in an U18 FIRA tournament game against France, that was a narrow victory,” he recalls.
“I think (Antoine) Dupont was playing, he was very good back then already and he has only got better.
“I watched them in the Six Nations, they are massively renowned for their flair and how exciting they are in attack.
“They have brought some real form to the tournament; they have got some good playing relationships on the pitch and some combinations that are really working for them.
“It is going to be a proper challenge for us but that is what you want.”
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