England forward Sam Underhill ready to put Scottish roots to one side

Boasting a grandmother from the Borders, flanker Sam Underhill, who is one of England’s main threats in today’s Calcutta Cup clash, is more Scottish qualified than a fair few in Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad and even more who have worn the dark blue down the years.

England's Sam Underhill will be making his first start at Murrayfield. Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty

The World Cup final starter’s only taste of the world’s oldest international fixture was off the bench in England’s 2018 defeat and he is expecting nothing less than a full-blooded and testing contest today.

“It’s a pretty big occasion. Every Test is a big occasion, but there’s a big rivalry there,” said the 23-year-old Bath forward, who will win his 17th England cap.

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“From a personal point of view, I’ve got a Scottish grandmother, a Scottish brother-in-law, one of my other sister’s boyfriends is Scottish. So I just turn my phone off before the game!”

Beyond bragging rights over parts of his family, Underhill said England were desperate to get their hands back on the famous old trophy after a rare absence of two years from the Twickenham cabinet.

“Incredibly so. In terms of last week especially, as a player when you have a disappointing result there’s nothing more that you want than another game, so we’ve got a chance as a group to improve and show each other what we’re about to perform for one another. The fact that it just happens to be a Calcutta Cup is probably even better for us because there’s more pressure because, ultimately, pressure is something you need to perform at your best.

“You need to put yourself under pressure and for other people to put you under pressure.”

Underhill missed last year’s Six Nations through injury but the events of two years ago were enough for him to be more prepared for the intensity that awaits later this afternoon and into what is shaping up to be a stormy Edinburgh evening.

“I didn’t play in the last one. I played here in the last game at Murrayfield. I was on the bench, it was one of my first caps and first experience here at Murrayfield,” he recalled.

“It was probably my first insight into the emotion of the occasion and I was probably a bit naive to it before, getting booed off the bus and seeing 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, like I say, that’s to be embraced as a player, it’s something that you want to play in and be in that position because you want to be under the most pressure you can be because that means you’re playing at the highest level you can play.

“That for us as a player is what we want.”

Born in Ohio, Underhill started out at Gloucester before a couple of years in Wales with the Ospreys. He joined Bath just as Adam Hastings was leaving The Rec for Glasgow Warriors, but he has followed the stand-off’s career with interest.

When asked how much Scotland might miss the absent Finn Russell, he said: “Depends if you don’t think Adam Hastings is any good.

“I think he’s a pretty good player as well. He looks pretty sharp.

“I don’t think they’ll have lost anything in terms of attacking flair. I think they’re still pretty dangerous. I think that would be a disservice to Adam to say they’re missing anything.”

England, as always, start as favourites, but Underhill is adamant that any whiff of superiority and entitlement in this fixture is not driven by the players.

“I’d say that’s a disservice to Scotland,” said Underhill. “As a player you don’t think about that sort of stuff. I know in the media you write about favourites and underdogs and that kind of stuff but as professional players you know that every team is capable of beating any other team.

“The English media is guilty of doing that, I don’t think we ever think that anything is done before we’re there.”