TOKYO (Reuters) - England’s battle-hardened youngsters have been given the royal stamp of approval ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final against South Africa, Sam Underhill told reporters in Tokyo.
“Prince Harry sent us a message of support, which was nice to receive. He showed us his little lad in an England shirt, which was a nice touch. But I’m still waiting on my personal message,” the flanker joked on the eve of the showdown.
Second-row George Kruis told how the team was riding a wave of support from England fans at home and in Japan. “I’d just like to say that the fans back home have been unbelievable for us.
“We’ve felt the buzz from mates back home, texting and giving us a picture of what it is like. I’d like to thank the local clubs, which do an amazing job of getting us here, by starting us on the journey. Big appreciation to them.”
With an average age of 27, the English line-up to face South Africa in Yokohama is the youngest to start a World Cup final since rugby turned professional 24 years ago.
But, studded with Six Nations champions, British and Irish Lions, Premiership winners and European champions, their experience on the biggest stages is allowing them to handle pressure.
“There is definitely an understanding of nerves and how you deal with them a bit more,” said Kruis, who is one of nine Saracens in the England squad.
“I remember my first final, you definitely overthink a lot of stuff. You try and get everything perfect and I guess there is an understanding that you just have to get your processes right.
“You don’t have to overthink things. It is a massive game but we have to see it as another game and just make sure that mentally it doesn’t get to you. That is a learned thing but we’ve done a lot of work to build up to these moments, we’ve dissected and looked across our previous games where there had been some issues.”
Instead, the relative youth of the England set-up is proving to be a boost, 23-year-old Underhill said.
“It’s definitely a positive having younger players in the side. There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm to be had from that. It’s been good for the squad dynamic as well, as we can mix experience with guys who are keen to learn, which has been good.
“You look at the younger players and they don’t seem that young. You look at (21-year-old) Tom Curry; he’s the youngest in the squad but he doesn’t seem like a young player or a junior player – which fills you with a lot of confidence.”
England are seeking to win their second World Cup after triumphing in 2003 - when their side was derided by Australian media as being a “Dad’s Army”.
Reporting by Ossian Shine; Editing by Paul Tait