Fresh off the back of a third Under-20 Six Nations campaign, including last year’s Summer Series, Chandler Cunningham-South is chomping at the bit to be back involved in Club rugby.
Despite a tough few months for Alan Dickens’ England, where England finished fourth after three wins and two losses, Cunningham-South shone in his trio of appearances.
In just three games, the 20-year-old scored his first two tries for his country, made 38 tackles and averaged 5.7 metres made per carry representing the Rose at age-grade level.
A lot can be taken from his 13 months of international experience in the youngster’s opinion, who was only one of three players in the current squad to have attained 10 caps.
“I think I have developed as a player and a person from since I was playing last year, on and off the field,” Cunningham-South maintained.
“It’s been a good experience for me, I have been exposed to different environments through Irish and England and have been able to bring my qualities into the game.
“It is quite difficult, but I try my best to have a good balance to try and do the best I can.”
It wasn’t an easy move in relocating back to his country of birth last year from Christchurch in New Zealand and was absorbed into the Senior Academy, just as Tom Pearson was a matter of months earlier.
He in fact earned his first appearance in England on loan at local side Esher before his call-up to Alan Dickens’ squad in February last year, making his international debut before his Irish Club debut.
Cunningham-South, not a stranger to overcoming both mental and physical barriers in his time in the English capital, has found a perfect tonic in London Irish to the upheaval of moving across the world again.
“It is tough being away from my mum and dad back home, but the boys are always here for me, the coaching staff especially.
“I’m living with Will Joseph and Louie [Kirkham], they’re both really good boys.
“The culture has gotten a lot better throughout the year, we had the tough times at the beginning but we have worked as a team to get stronger.
“Now I think we have something good brewing, especially after a big wins against the likes of Sale, Quins and Newcastle.
“Apart from that Leicester game, which was a tough one, it seems to be coming together.
“At this point, we’re in a good position to really go forward and push into the latter parts of the season, which is what the boys all want.”
The all-action performances of Cunningham-South in the green of London Irish have affirmed him as one of the dearest treasures of the squad by supporters and neutrals alike.
Crucial tries, the likes of which coming in derby games against Saracens and Harlequins, have also gone a long way in furthering his standing as a key component in matchday squads.
The passionate chest-beating, roof-raising celebrations that come with those tries are down to the love he has found in his new home in south-west London.
“London Irish gave me this opportunity, they have backed me, and the coaches are there for me whenever I need them, especially Fish [Jonathan Fisher].
“The team have really adopted me as one of their own, it’s a homely environment here and being part of something like that is special, it’s not lost on me.
“Having those guys around you gives you an even bigger sense of pride when you put on the jersey, because when you’re playing, it’s about something bigger than yourself.
“I love playing for this Club, hopefully there are more big matches I can be a part of for the rest of the season.”
Beneath his commitment to the Exiles cause lies an extremely capable rugby player, always putting on a show in his time on the pitch for London Irish.
The physical robustness the versatile forward employs in his game time is something he naturally prides himself on, projecting every bit of his 6ft 4’, 120 kg frame on opponents week in, week out.
“The contact area is where I feel I do my best work and where I want to show myself.
“I never want to take a step back in the contact, whether that be in defence and tackling or carrying the ball – I always want to go forward.
“There’s definitely other elements of my game I want to work on for sure, to be the full package is the end goal so I’ll always be working to get better in my stronger points and my work-ons.”
Cunningham-South operates amongst one of the most competitive areas of the squad vying for places in the matchday 23 every week, with 15 first team and Senior Academy back-rowers currently at the Club.
His inspiration for his playing style is nevertheless still around him on the training paddock at the Hazelwood Centre, who adopts components of the playing styles of his colleagues to prepend onto his own.
“I savour that competition amongst the squad, I feel playing in that back-row position is really good for me.
“I’m learning off all these guys as the weeks go by, and as we go through the season, they all have different things that they offer that I feel I can add to my own game.
“TP [Tom Pearson] has been unreal this year, as he was last season, and learning off the stuff he and Juan [Martín González] and the others can do has really helped my game come along.
“Sooty [So’otala Fa’aso’o] too, you can’t stop that guy five metres from the try line, and I’ve been learning how he does that.
“It’s just about stealing other bits of their game and putting them into mine!”
The pressure of playing Premiership rugby and making his Heineken Champions Cup debut this term has not faltered the headstrong attitude of Cunningham-South.
Even as a Senior Academy player, Cunningham-South ranks joint-third in appearances made for the senior side this season (19) for London Irish.
Does a sense of occasion get to Cunningham-South ahead of big matchdays like the St. Patrick’s Party this Saturday?
“Not really, I love playing to be honest!” he concluded.
“I prefer to be on that field and playing and training with the team, so for me being out on the pitch is where I am happiest and at my best.
“I think everyone at the Club knows that, and I’m grateful for every opportunity I have to play for the Club.”