They may be his rivals for a starting spot at this year’s Rugby World Cup, but that hasn’t stopped Sam Underhill showering Tom Curry and Mark Wilson with high praise.
England and Bath Rugby flanker Underhill has been out of action since damaging his ankle ligaments during the club’s Gallagher Premiership victory over Leicester in December last year.
And in his absence, Sale Sharks star Curry and Wilson of Newcastle Falcons have formed a formidable partnership with Billy Vunipola in this year’s Guinness Six Nations.
But while the duo present a clear threat to Underhill’s hopes of making his World Cup debut in Japan, the 22-year-old admits he has been incredibly impressed by their performances.
“The back row have been excellent, I think big Billy [Vunipola] is looking really good, I think Tom Curry has been outstanding,” said CBRE All Schools Ambassador Underhill.
“I also think Mark Wilson has been excellent. They have backed up some very good performances and there is still some very good strength in depth.
“Nathan Hughes is a more than capable player. He’s got so much to offer on the pitch and then there’s also Brad Shields and other guys who haven’t potentially had as much time on the pitch.
“Courtney Lawes was unlucky to be out injured, but the depth they have got in that back row is pretty impressive and they’ve backed up some good performances.
“There is a good relationship between the back row at the moment, a good level of competitiveness and that drives improvements and will only make the team better.
The Red Rose finished the Championship with a dramatic 38-38 draw to Scotland as they finished second behind Grand Slam champions Wales, who previously beat England in Cardiff.
And reflecting on their performance, Underhill said: “I think England have demonstrated a bit of what they can do, I know they will be disappointed about the Wales game.
“They’ll also probably be disappointed about not scoring against France in the last 20 minutes, so I think you can never look at something and sit back and say, ‘That’s good’.
“There are always things to improve and that’s the sort of coach Eddie Jones is and that’s the sort of group the players are, they’ll look to continually improve irrespective of how good they’ve played.”
By his own admission, it has been a frustrating spell on the sidelines for Underhill. He is now keen to make up for lost time and is focused on helping Bath finish the Premiership season on a high.
“I’m not a brilliant spectator, it’s never a good time, but it is what it is and I can catch the tail end of the season so that’s a big positive for me,” said Underhill.
“I’ll catch the last six or seven Premiership games. I should finish the season fit and in decent shape, so it’s never a good time to be injured, but it’s not necessarily the worst time either.
“I’m back training and then we play Exeter Chiefs so I should be available for selection. I hope I can get a run of games and put myself forward for England selection for the World Cup.
“But I just want to get back playing for Bath first as ultimately club rugby is the foundation of everything you do if you’re an international player.
“What’s been most frustrating for me has not been able to contribute to Bath in the last few, especially with a couple of games that have been pretty close.”
CBRE All Schools supported by Canterbury is one of the RFU’s key legacy programmes, set up to increase the number of state secondary schools playing rugby union in England. Visit www.englandrugby.com/allschools to find out more.