Sam Underhill is poised to fill the void in England’s back row created by Tom Curry’s tour-ending concussion for Saturday’s do-or-die second Test against Australia in Brisbane.
Underhill was overlooked altogether for the 30-28 defeat at Optus Stadium but is winning the race to be selected at openside flanker ahead of Lewis Ludlam and Jack Willis.
The Bath back row was a star of the 2019 World Cup but since Japan he has been limited to winning only 13 caps due to concussion, Covid, illness and injury, making just one appearance in the recent Six Nations.
Now he is poised to lead the defensive stand at Suncorp Stadium as England took to take the series to a decider, with Ludlam expected to continue on the bench.
“Sam’s work rate on and off the ball are excellent. He’s a really good defender, particularly with his chop tackles,” said Australian defence coach Anthony Seibold, who joined Eddie Jones’ coaching team in the autumn.
“He’s played at a high level. I’m thinking of New Zealand at Twickenham in 2018 and, watching his performances at the World Cup from afar, he was a standout for me.”
Teenage sensation Henry Arundell is also in serious contention to replace Joe Cokanasiga on the left wing following his stunning seven-minute try-scoring cameo in the first Test.
It was hoped that Jonny May would be available for the Suncorp Stadium clash but he has yet to train fully as he continues his recovery from Covid and he now faces a battle to be fit for the climax to the series in Sydney.
Cokanasiga was a peripheral figure in Perth, frustrating through his failure to go hunting for the ball, but concerns over Arundell’s defence at this stage of his career could spare him the axe.
Six years ago England produced a remarkable act of defiance in the second Test in Melbourne to take an unassailable lead in a series they went on to win 3-0 and it is felt that a similar effort will be needed to subdue the Wallabies on Saturday.
A patchy defence has been a deficiency of recent times but Seibold insists they have the personnel to avoid a fifth consecutive defeat.
“You look at our leaders like Courtney Lawes, Owen Farrell and Ellis Genge – you want to go to war with those guys. You do,” Seibold said.
“Working with those three guys in particular, amongst others, you know if you had to go to war with those three guys you know they’re going to stand up.
“I know Owen spoke about how this is an opportunity for us. I do think we’ve got some guys in our group who are up for this and that’s the exciting thing.”
Veteran prop Mako Vunipola has called on England to empty the tanks at a venue where Australia have won their last 10 Tests.
“It’s time for us to show what we’re about as a team. We’ve got nowhere to hide,” Vunipola said.
“We’ve got our backs against the wall and now we’ve got to go out there and put our best foot forward.
“If we do that, we can come off the field with our heads held high. I don’t think we did that enough in the first Test and the result showed that.”