Inside story: Ben Youngs’s 10-year journey to becoming an England centurion

Ben Youngs of England breaks through the Wales defence during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 07, 2020 in London, England. - GETTY IMAGESBen Youngs of England breaks through the Wales defence during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 07, 2020 in London, England. - GETTY IMAGES

View photos

Ben Youngs of England breaks through the Wales defence during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 07, 2020 in London, England. – GETTY IMAGES

Former England and Leicester full-back, Dusty Hare, remembers clearly what struck him the first time he laid eyes on a 14-year-old Ben Youngs playing for Eastern Counties against Hertfordshire at St Albans.

“Ben always had an air of time about him, unruffled, never rushing or panicking,” said Hare who helped oversee Ben’s development as part of the Tigers’ Academy. “Ben was in the centre that day, moved infield to fly-half at some point in his young career before settling on his best position at scrum-half. Even as a youngster, he didn’t get flustered. Ben came from farming stock, like myself, and I played with his dad, (another scrum-half), Nick. You can see the family traits in the way Ben has gone about his game, taking his sport seriously but never himself.”

It was no surprise given his heritage that Youngs had a ball in his hands from a young age, grandfather Gerry having erected a set of ad-hoc rugby posts from irrigation poles at the family farm at Aylesham in Norfolk. Brother, Tom, is two years older but was rarely able to nail his brother.

“There used to be full-on contact sessions at the farm but Tom could never get hold of Ben because he was so nippy and jinky,” said Simon Worralls, master in charge of rugby at their school, Gresham’s, and married to Nick’s sister, Lucy. “There was always a touch of genius about Ben. Rugby is in the family’s blood.”

Ben followed Tom into Leicester ranks and made an immediate impression as a 17-year-old when becoming the youngest Tigers player to play in the Premiership, later appearing in that season’s final against Gloucester.

Tigers scrum half Ben Youngs breaks through a tackle during the Heineken Cup Round 6 Pool 3 match between Ospreys and Leicester Tigers at Liberty Stadium on January 23, 2010 in Swansea, Wales. - GETTY IMAGESTigers scrum half Ben Youngs breaks through a tackle during the Heineken Cup Round 6 Pool 3 match between Ospreys and Leicester Tigers at Liberty Stadium on January 23, 2010 in Swansea, Wales. - GETTY IMAGES

View photos

Tigers scrum half Ben Youngs breaks through a tackle during the Heineken Cup Round 6 Pool 3 match between Ospreys and Leicester Tigers at Liberty Stadium on January 23, 2010 in Swansea, Wales. – GETTY IMAGES

“Ben had great pace and could see gaps that no-one else could see,” recalls long-standing former Leicester coach and director of rugby, Richard Cockerill. “No-one knew who he was back then so he’d come on as a replacement and within minutes he’d invariably be dummying an opponent and be off 60 metres up the field scoring a try. Ben was a natural whereas Tom (originally also a centre who converted to hooker) had to graft to make his mark. Ben was gifted but had to acquire the right work ethic. The brothers are opposites in that regard. Ben has knuckled down, though, developed his all-round game, his kicking in particular. He quickly realised that professional rugby wasn’t just about the sparkly bits, running free. Ben also managed to conquer his fat gene. Eddie (Jones) was right on the money when he chucked him a bag of sweets when he first became England coach and told Ben he liked snacking too much and to lose weight. Ben took it on board to be fair. He doesn’t over-think things, he says what’s on his mind, sometimes to his disadvantage but gets on with life. Ben is nicely uncomplicated.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="There will be no dissenters as to the acclaim that will come Youngs’ way. Youngs, 31, has been a popular figure throughout his career, admired for his technical skills, his ability to endure and also to enhance his game despite set-backs. Above all there is the freshness and genuineness of his personality. There is a sharp side to him as Cockerill notes but there is a profound decency too, at no time better reflected than when he withdrew from the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand following a foreboding cancer prognosis for Tom’s wife, Tiffany, a life-ending projection that, mercifully, did not come to pass.” data-reactid=”56″>There will be no dissenters as to the acclaim that will come Youngs’ way. Youngs, 31, has been a popular figure throughout his career, admired for his technical skills, his ability to endure and also to enhance his game despite set-backs. Above all there is the freshness and genuineness of his personality. There is a sharp side to him as Cockerill notes but there is a profound decency too, at no time better reflected than when he withdrew from the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand following a foreboding cancer prognosis for Tom’s wife, Tiffany, a life-ending projection that, mercifully, did not come to pass.

“That encapsulated Ben, giving up on every player’s dream with the Lions to stand strong for his brother and family,” said one-time Leicester and England colleague, Newcastle fly-half, Toby Flood. “There is a bit of a split personality about Ben. He is ultra-competitive yet so humble and laissez-faire away from rugby, a lovely guy to hang out with. I was his fly-half when he got his first England start (a 21-20 win over the Wallabies in Sydney in 2010) and the pace he showed for his try was amazing. A bit like teams are now with France scrum-half, Antoine Dupont, defences were terrified of Ben’s speed. He had to develop his all-round game which he has done brilliantly. If you’d sat him down that night in Sydney and told him that he would get to 100 caps for England, he’d have bitten your hand off. Ben has been a consummate professional and deserves the plaudits.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The fact that Youngs is only the second Englishman to reach a century of test caps speaks not just of his ability but also of an inner drive to keep working in order to see off rivals to the starting shirt. Jason Leonard was the third most capped international when he reached 100 caps behind David Campese and Philippe Sella. There are now some 60 centurions across a number of countries. Eddie Jones believes that there is no reason why Youngs ‘should not reach 150 caps.’&nbsp;” data-reactid=”62″>The fact that Youngs is only the second Englishman to reach a century of test caps speaks not just of his ability but also of an inner drive to keep working in order to see off rivals to the starting shirt. Jason Leonard was the third most capped international when he reached 100 caps behind David Campese and Philippe Sella. There are now some 60 centurions across a number of countries. Eddie Jones believes that there is no reason why Youngs ‘should not reach 150 caps.’ 

“Ben’s durability is remarkable, a matter partly of luck but also of attitude and professionalism,” said Cockerill. “You can have nothing but admiration for him.”  

Leave a Reply