Tony Underwood, the England wing, today commutes from Hertfordshire into the City of London for the last time, having decided to give up his job as a securities broker in order to concentrate on rugby.
Underwood insists he is not becoming a full-time oval-ball professional, but is seeking other opportunities more consonant with the overwhelming demands of training and playing. In fact, for the rest of the autumn he will be out of the game altogether, while he recovers from a knee operation.
So already Underwood's share of the minimum pounds 40,000 England squad members have each been guaranteed by the Rugby Football Union for a season's work is likely to be depleted. He will be allowed to start running from the end of October and may play in December, ruling him out of the South Africa match on 18 November and probably the Western Samoa match on 16 December.
"I would now see myself as a semi-professional," Underwood said last night. "You could say I'm a victim of the way rugby is going: whereas previously I held a full-time job and rugby was a pastime, now that has switched around and with the level of participation required by rugby, you can't be a full-time broker.
"That's not to say I won't return to that career once my rugby career is over, but I would hope to have another six years playing and obviously I'll be looking at ways to get an income from other sources, perhaps involving media work but also other things."
Underwood, 26, who already writes a rugby column for the Independent, is the fourth England player to place rugby before his day job. Mike Catt unequivocally turned professional by ceasing to be a marketing man once the International Board had abandoned what was left of amateurism; Dean Richards has taken an 18-month sabbatical from the police; Martin Bayfield, another policeman, is considering taking five years out.
Underwood's England run - he has 20 caps - was halted when he was left out of the World Cup third-place match against France after having to face Jonah Lomu of New Zealand in the semi-final. "I'm more than content that I have the ability not just to be in the squad, but to play for England," he said. "But it's clearly a bigger risk for me now because I'm going to miss two games before Christmas and someone will be given an opportunity."
His new career path puts a premium on his retaining an England place so as to maximise his earning potential within rugby, particularly as making anything additional out of club rugby with Leicester has been closed off by the RFU's 1995-96 moratorium.Reuse content