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Last Updated: Monday, 5 March 2007, 08:19 GMT
Underwood still an England flyer
By Mark Barden

When Five Nations matches against France were called 'Le Crunch', Tony Underwood was flying down the wing for England.

Tony Underwood (left) celebrates with Mike Catt.
Underwood celebrates his first try against France at HQ in 1996
These days, however, he does most of his flying at 35,000ft as a long-haul pilot with Virgin Airways.

And when he's not jetting around the globe, Underwood is at home with his wife and two daughters in Evian-les-Bains.

The younger brother of fellow England hero Rory is now settled in the French spa town at the foot of the Alps on the shores of Lake Geneva.

"It was really a lifestyle decision," Underwood told BBC Sport on what was literally a flying visit to London.

"When I joined Virgin last year, we decided we could live anywhere in Europe with good access to a major airport.

"We'd been living in Buckinghamshire but never really felt settled there, and Evian just ticked all the boxes for us.

"It's a great place to live and we've made some good friends, although my French still isn't as good as I'd like it to be."


Despite the old and intense Anglo-French rivalry on the pitch, Underwood - capped 27 times for England - says he is rarely recognised by Les Francais.

"Although France is hosting the World Cup this year, where we live isn't a big rugby area - people are more into skiing, cycling, sailing and tennis," he said.

"I like the anonymity. Having said that, when the girls started school, one did a sailing course and the other was signed up for rugby, and the coach clocked me as soon as I walked in!"

Tony Underwood is backing a new RAF clothing range which benefits the RAF Museum.
I never wanted to live the rest of my life through rugby after I finished playing

Tony Underwood
Underwood, 38, agrees the days when England v France was viewed as the perennial Five - now Six - Nations title decider are long gone.

"We were always the two leading lights of the tournament unless one of the celtic nations was able to get it together," he recalled.

"There was huge expectation every time England met France, partly because no-one could ever be quite sure how the French would play.

"I remember at Twickenham in the 1997 Five Nations being all over them in the first half, but they came out after the break and played rugby the like of which I had never seen and went on to win 23-20."

Underwood's finest moment against France came in 1996, when he ran in two tries in England's 35-10 win at HQ en route to the Grand Slam.

"I've got great memories of scoring tries in all the shirts I played in, but my second in that match was a real team effort.

"It was the kind of textbook training ground move that only occasionally works during a game, so it was very satisfying."

Born: 17/2/69, Ipoh, Malaysia
Position: Winger
Clubs: Leicester & Newcastle
First cap: Oct 1992 v Canada
Total caps: 27
England tries/points: 13/65
Record v France: P2 W1 L1
Final cap: Dec 1998 v S Africa

Not that Underwood is one for dwelling on past glories, having left rugby behind and followed his former RAF pilot brother into aviation.

"I'd always been interested in flying, ever since my childhood in Malaysia when I would look up at jet contrails and wonder where they were going," he said.

"Towards the end of my career with Newcastle I had a couple of bad knee injuries which served as a wake-up call about life after rugby.

"So I decided to take flying lessons, really enjoyed it, and have been fortunate enough to get to where I am now.

"I never wanted to live the rest of my life through rugby after I finished playing, to make it my be all and end all - that would have been quite sad."

In fact, his second career in the skies now affords Underwood a rare chance to keep abreast of rugby matters at home.

"When we get to cruising altitude, I can grab the newspapers we have onboard and catch up with what's happening in the sport," he said.

Underwood is as in touch as he wants to be - he's a different kind of flyer now.

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