Find out more about the England back-row

Chandler Cunningham-South has broken into the England team and won his first cap off the bench against Italy in the 2024 Six Nations.

Find out more about him below.

Related: England top try-scorer

Chandler Cunningham-South: Rising Star

Age 20 (18 March 2003) Born London Position Back-row Club Harlequins Country England

When did you first play rugby?

I was four years old and signed up for Silverdale Rugby Club in New Zealand. I think it was my grandad who took me down first when he was over on holiday as we had moved to Auckland when my dad got a job over there.

What attracted you to the sport?

I liked it straight away. I liked being able to hit people and the physical side of it. Making friends was good and doing something outside of school. The sausage sizzles afterwards were always good too!

Did you play other sports?

Hockey, volleyball, water polo, basketball, a bit of netball and I did a bit of rugby league. Everything and anything I could play to be honest to get out of class time. I did rowing for one season but didn’t like that.

What positions have you played?

Everywhere except ten because I wouldn’t pass the ball. Centre, wing, prop, lock, back row. I liked No 8 so I could pick off the back of the scrum. They had weight restrictions in the leagues, so I had to wear red socks which meant you couldn’t pick the ball up off the back of the scrum for the first phase. I used to play six and then be given the ball.

When did the rep rugby start?

I did North Harbour at around 11 or 12 and then I was in the Waikato U14s.

Any childhood heroes?

Alesana Tuilagi. We were near one of the Samoa hotels in the 2011 World Cup and it was crazy seeing how big he was.

How did you find representing England?

It was cool but different as I had spent most of my time growing up in New Zealand. All my family are English, though. At first I felt Kiwi but as I’ve been around the group and playing my rugby in England, my accent has gone more English and I feel more English now.

Your strengths?

Physicality around the pitch. Running with the ball, tackling people and trying to be a bit of an enforcer on the game.

Your work-ons?

Defensive reads and flexibility. I need to start yoga.

Biggest influence on your career?

My mum and dad supported me when I didn’t make a team and always told me to ask for feedback. And Jonathan Fisher at Irish upped my game a lot. I thought rugby was all about hitting people and running at them. He developed me and turned me more into a professional.

How did you find it turning pro?

I didn’t know how much went into rugby until I came over. All the meetings and notebooks; it’s a very big jump but it’s pretty awesome to be able to do it as a job. The amount of lineouts and plays was crazy but getting on top of that has made the game a lot easier.

How hard was the London Irish situation?

It was a bit of a shock but everyone saw it coming at the end. My main memories are happy because I was very grateful to be playing professional rugby. Then it was where to go next and whether I was going to stay in England.

Joining Harlequins?

 Transition-wise it was the easiest club to go into, they play quite a similar style and have a few Kiwi and Aussie guys like London Irish, too.

Are you studying?

I did a year at Lincoln University studying Business and Commerce, majoring in Marketing before I left to go to London Irish. That gave me a diploma in business commerce but I’m not sure what else I’m going to do yet.

RW verdict:

A very talented No 8 who hit the ground running in the Premiership despite moving halfway across the world while still a teenager. A shrewd pick-up for Quins, a stand-out for the England U20s, Steve Borthwick will surely be keeping tabs on his progress.

This Chandler Cunningham-South article first appeared in the September 2023 edition of Rugby World magazine

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