By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Ben Youngs’s introduction to international rugby was not particularly auspicious as he was forced to fill in on the wing when England battled to a 15-15 draw with Scotland in the 2010 Six Nations.
Nine years on he faces the same opposition when he will become England’s most-capped scrumhalf, his tally of 85 taking him ahead of Danny Care.
During that period Youngs has tasted the game’s ultimate international highs, winning the Six Nations Grand Slam with England and playing for the British and Irish Lions, lining up proudly for both alongside his brother Tom.
It has been by no means plain sailing, though, his battle with Care for the starting berth being a constant backdrop, and two World Cup failures leaving a huge sense of disappointment.
Despite what is already a long and illustrious career, at 29 he is hardly a veteran, and, like everyone involved under Eddie Jones, Youngs is constantly looking to improve.
“I am very grateful that I’ve been able to have this many opportunities to play this many times. It does go very, very fast. At times you do want it to slow down a bit so you can enjoy the great bits of it,” he told reporters on the eve of Saturday’s Twickenham Six Nations finale.
“It is great when someone like Eddie that backs you the way he does for me. It makes me just want to go on and keep achieving.”
Youngs missed most of last year’s Six Nations through injury and said watching from the side gave him the extra fire to reclaim the number nine shirt.
“It gives you this unbelievable desire to get back in there as quickly as possible and come back better,” he said.
“The main thing for me is trying to be real director of the forward pack, get them right areas of the field – and then my general fitness. As the game continues to get quicker so it’s just having that ability to be able to run as quick in the 80th as you can in the first.”
BAG OF SWEETS
When Jones arrived after the 2015 World Cup he told Youngs he needed to be lighter. Famously, he threw him a bag of sweets and asked him if he wanted them. Youngs gave the correct answer, and quickly developed into the leaner, fitter operator the new boss demanded.
His focus on constant improvement means he will have little time to celebrate his landmark appearance on Saturday, and says he expects nothing more than a gentle “well done” from his father Nick, who won six caps as England’s scrumhalf in the mid-1980s.
“I think it means more to friends and family,” he said. “We’re pretty grounded though, maybe when I next get home I’ll have a beer with the old man, and that’ll be about as much as I’ll get.”
Youngs’ focus is instead trying to beat Scotland – a victory that would be enough to win the title if Ireland can beat Wales earlier in the day.
He said he always enjoys the emotion of the Calcutta Cup but admitted his first taste of it did not quite go to plan as, with England’s backline ravaged by injuries, coach Martin Johnson sent him on for his debut out of position 25 minutes from time.
“I came on and played on the wing for Ugo Monye,” Youngs said. “I remember as he got stretchered off, the thing ran out of power and they had to push him off, just to make it difficult.
“On Saturday we just have to make sure we get the balance between getting the emotion right and getting the accuracy right. Blend that together and it should make for a good performance.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)