Rugby

Chandler Cunningham-South pleased to be reaping the rewards after a ‘big step’

The Harlequins flanker appears to be an integral part of head coach Steve Borthwick’s long-term England plans.

Chandler Cunningham-South is relishing his opportunity with England
England Training Session – Friday March 1st – LNER Community Stadium Chandler Cunningham-South is relishing his opportunity with England (Mike Egerton/PA)

Chandler Cunningham-South is relishing every minute of the Six Nations maelstrom as he prepares to play a part in England’s daunting clash with back-to-back Grand Slam chasers Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.

Cunningham-South’s gamble in leaving New Zealand, where he had lived since the age of four, to return to the UK two years ago has paid off handsomely with his ascendancy to the full England squad for the first time this year.

His debut off the bench in the opening win over Italy, and subsequent appearances against both Wales and Scotland, have appeared to make the Harlequins flanker an integral part of head coach Steve Borthwick’s long-term plans.

Chandler Cunningham-South made his Six Nations debut against Italy
England v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium Chandler Cunningham-South made his Six Nations debut against Italy (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“It has been a really big step up for me and I think I have done all right,” said Cunningham-South. “I think I am the youngest in the squad and I have been taken under a few people’s wings.

“I like it. Especially when we were up in Edinburgh getting off the bus – all the heckling and yelling. That sort of stuff motivates me and gives me an extra bit of energy.

“Twickenham is awesome to play at. You don’t actually realise how big the stadium is until you are on the field looking up. It seems to not stop. It was awesome – so loud, so passionate, a real cool place to play.”

Chandler Cunningham-South was part of the England squad that fell short in Scotland
Scotland v England – Guinness Six Nations – Scottish Gas Murrayfield Stadium Chandler Cunningham-South was part of the England squad that fell short in Scotland (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Cunningham-South, who was born in Sidcup, decided to head back over to England to pursue his rugby career after finding his opportunities limited in New Zealand.

But he admits he had big moments of doubt after arriving in the midst of the Covid pandemic and finding himself struck down with the illness more or less immediately.

“I got the opportunity over in England and it all happened pretty quickly,” he added. “It was a weird time because I was stuck inside for 18 days with Covid and I was like, ‘Did I make the right decision?’ But once I had got rid of the Covid and got into training I knew I had done.

“I suppose it’s not meant to be easy. Moving over at that age I was a little homesick at first, but when you are working hard and having fun with new friends it gets pushed to the back of your head and I have been loving every minute of it.”

Cunningham-South initially joined the London Irish academy in 2022, representing England in the under-20 Six Nations in the same year, before moving on to Harlequins when Irish folded due to financial issues.

His swift ascent up the England ranks was confirmed when he came off the bench in the narrow opening win over Italy and Cunningham-South believes he is beginning to reap the benefits of his big career decision.

“I needed to develop a lot and that’s why I wanted to be a part of an academy set-up,” he added.

“And there was a definite mindset switch – what it takes to be a professional is very different to when you are playing uni rugby. I didn’t realise how much detail goes into the professional game. It was a bit of a shock, but it’s been good.”