Sam Underhill has been ruled out of England’s deciding Test against Australia on Saturday, forcing Eddie Jones to further shuffle his pack for the pivotal game in Sydney. Underhill sustained a head injury in the second half of last Saturday’s victory in Brisbane and joins Maro Itoje in being withdrawn from the squad prematurely.
Jones had already lost his first-choice openside flanker, Tom Curry, to concussion and with Underhill ruled out for the same reason England will seek to wrap up the series without their “Kamikaze Kids” – a nickname given to them in the build-up to the 2019 World Cup when they formed a formidable double act.
Itoje, who suffered a nasty-looking blow to the head in the first half, was ruled out of the third Test shortly after full-time meaning Jones has lost three of his most influential forwards to head injuries – an alarming attrition rate at the end of a gruelling season when it was revealed concussions in elite English rugby hit their highest levels since records began.
Underhill started the 25-17 victory in Brisbane but after sustaining the injury he initially lay motionless on his back before groggily getting to his feet and attempting to play on, only for medics to intervene. Given Underhill’s concussion history – he missed nearly three months of the season for Bath due to head injuries – and that World Rugby tightened the return-to-play protocols at the start of the month, he will not be considered for England’s first visit to the Sydney Cricket Ground since 1975.
Lewis Ludlam would be the most likely to fill the void at openside and in better news for Jones Jack Willis is available for selection, having been ruled out of the second Test with a rib injury. Initial fears were that Willis was a doubt for the Sydney match but the latest prognosis is more positive.
Underhill and Itoje are due to fly home this week, but Jones will not call up any replacements. When Curry was ruled out of the tour last week, it is understood Jones looked into calling up a replacement with London Irish’s Tom Pearson under consideration but he decided there were no viable alternatives given the length of time it would take players to travel and get up to speed.
Jack Nowell has revealed winning the series would be more memorable than the 3-0 whitewash against Australia in 2016 given England were beaten in the opener in Perth by the 14-man Wallabies.
He said: “If I look back to last time we were out here, winning 3-0 was special but to come from 1-0 down, and hopefully the idea is to go 2-1 at the end of it, is hopefully one I will remember more.
“The thing we spoke about [last Saturday] was if we lose, we lose the series, it is as simple as that and when you keep it that simple it frees us up on the field. The first half we were dominant. Australia came back but where we are as a squad, we were able to handle that and fire through, especially the forwards. Our lineout and maul, those boys leading it, [were] awesome.”