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England should invoke exceptional circumstances rule for Sam Underhill - Ben Kay

Published 21/01/2016

Ben Kay, pictured, believes there will be a number of Aviva Premiership clubs wanting to sign Sam Underhill
Ben Kay, pictured, believes there will be a number of Aviva Premiership clubs wanting to sign Sam Underhill

Ben Kay expects England to invoke their exceptional circumstances rule and take Sam Underhill on tour to Australia as the prelude to a bidding war from Aviva Premiership clubs.

Underhill's barnstorming performances for the Ospreys against Leinster and Clermont this month have caused a stir, but he was already on England's radar and has been mentored by Kay's World Cup-winning team-mate Richard Hill.

The 19-year-old flanker swapped Gloucester for Bridgend Ravens last summer to begin studying at Cardiff University, but was quickly drafted into the Ospreys' squad before his recent form resulted in a surge of interest.

England head coach Eddie Jones hinted last week that Underhill was in his future plans, but the teenager also qualifies for Scotland and the United States and will be eligible for Wales too if he completes his contract at Bridgend that expires in 2018.

Only players from the Premiership can be considered for selection by Jones, but Kay believes the Rugby Football Union will turn to their exceptional circumstances edict for the first time to enable Underhill to tour Australia in June.

"There will definitely be a clamour from Premiership clubs trying to bring him back to England," Kay told Press Association Sport.

"There's a suggestion he might be involved in the summer tour and I'm sure there will be a little bit of flexibility shown by England.

"When looking at the exceptional circumstances rule, he didn't leave Gloucester because he was chasing a pay day, instead he was going to study at Cardiff University.

"Perhaps he wasn't at the top of Premiership clubs' wanted list when he left, but I'm sure there will be a lot of Premiership teams wanting to bring him in.

"All of this comes on the back of a couple of really good games and he's got to maintain that form, but certainly he looks like someone who would be a huge asset to English rugby."

Underhill started at openside against Leinster, outplaying Ireland's Sean O'Brien in the process, and blindside for the visit of Clermont last Friday when he was relentless in defence.

Kay, however, believes his international future lies in the number sever jersey, a position where England lack depth.

"If you were going to advise him, you'd tell him to focus on being an openside because English is awash with guys who can play six and eight, but there aren't many sevens," he said.

James Haskell appears to be Jones' preferred choice at openside for the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations, but Kay views uncapped 22-year-old Jack Clifford as a better option.

"James can do that role, but personally I'd love to see Clifford in there. It wouldn't surprise me if they went for Clifford instead of Haskell," Kay said.

"For me, Clifford has a skill set that has been previously lacking in England's thoughts. Eddie has said they lack an out and out seven.

"I think he'll end up at eight, but he's certainly a good poacher and is someone who can share the breakdown workload in the mould of David Pocock and Michael Hooper."

* Ben Kay was speaking on behalf of BMW, proud partners of England Rugby and drivers of the BMW Sweet Chariots at the 2016 RBS 6 Nations.

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