Sam Underhill gets final chance to stake claim for place in Lions squad
Sam Underhill will have one final chance to advance his claims for a place in the British & Irish Lions squad on Saturday with Warren Gatland expected to be in attendance for Bath’s European Challenge Cup semi-final against Montpellier.
Underhill missed England’s miserable Six Nations campaign with a hip injury but is believed to be one of a number of players who remain on Gatland’s radar despite playing no part in the championship. Indeed Underhill was sorely missed by England, with their breakdown problems identified in the Rugby Football Union’s post-tournament review as a key reason for the fifth-place finish.
Gatland held a selection meeting in Jersey with his assistants this week but his trip to Bath is significant before he names his 36-man squad on Thursday. The Lions selectors have identified the back row as the most competitive area when it comes to finalising the squad. Underhill’s rivals for a place include Tom Curry, Hamish Watson, CJ Stander, Billy Vunipola and the Wales trio of Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi and Taulupe Faletau. Exeter’s Sam Simmonds is another believed to be firmly in the mix despite his continued England exile.
Underhill has the advantage of one last audition in front of Gatland before the New Zealander names his squad, with most of his rivals not in action this weekend. Faletau and wing Anthony Watson are also in the Bath lineup but Gatland is unlikely to learn anything new about two shoo-ins for the squad. Underhill, on the other hand, has the opportunity to make a significant impression on his 50th appearance for Bath, while the centre Cameron Redpath will also be hoping to catch the eye with the Scotland coaches and Lions assistants Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy also in attendance.
Should Bath overcome Montpellier, their Challenge Cup final will be at Twickenham in front of up to 10,000 supporters after the stadium was confirmed as the new venue for this season’s European finals. Marseille had been due to host the Challenge Cup final on 21 May and the Champions Cup final the following day but the tournament organisers, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), announced last month that would no longer be the case.
With crowds to be allowed at sporting venues in England from 17 May under the government’s post-lockdown plan, Twickenham emerged as the preferred option.
It will be the third year in a row the finals have been held in England after Ashton Gate was the venue in 2020 and Newcastle United’s St James’ Park the year before that. The last time fans were allowed to attend a match at Twickenham was England’s Autumn Nations Cup final win against France in December.
The RFU chief executive, Bill Sweeney, said: “We’re looking forward to seeing up to 10,000 fans back at Twickenham Stadium again for these EPCR finals and are delighted to be chosen to host the fixtures.
“This is an important opportunity for us to hold events as part of plans for the return of fans to stadia. We are working hard with EPCR and local authorities to put various measures in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all those attending each match.”