England kick-off of their autumn internationals this Saturday with a modest test against Fiji. The bruising encounter against the Flying Fijians will prove an initial examination for Stuart Lancaster to discover just how prepared his inexperienced side are before the triple-header against the world’s top three. These tests will not be encountered flippantly. World rankings in other sports might be farcical and maligned, but for England it is pivotal to ensure they remain in the top four before the 2015 World Cup seedings are formulated come the end of this year. This is to ensure their passage through the group stage is as feasible as possible, and avoiding the powerhouses such as New Zealand prematurely. England need to showcase to the fans that they have learnt from their mistakes from the Six Nations and South Africa. When Lancaster announced his team on Thursday morning, the name on the team sheet for the Fijian game which has caused most intrigue is that of Youngs. Not Ben, however, who has returned from injury quicker than expected; but his older brother Tom.
The boys grew up on a farm in Norfolk and were always destined to play rugby. Their father Nick played scrum-half and represented the Red Roses on six occasions. Ben Youngs told fond anecdotes at the team’s hotel in Surrey on Thursday how the two brothers would play ‘attack vs. defence’ out in the fields. Tom’s younger brother happily admitted he did not have the farming endeavour of his sibling, and how this grit and fortitude drove him to make it as a professional. Tom recollects how his first game at hooker went “I remember playing my first 90 minutes for Nottingham and just running around like a headless chicken. I wanted to become the best hooker in the Championship, and making sure I set little goals has been important in my career.”
Remarkably, his career has not followed the archetypal rugby path because Youngs converted from playing as a centre to the front-row. After the suggestion from former Leicester Tigers Coach Heyneke Meyer’s that both he and the club would have faith in him if he made the move, Youngs was given a few weeks to deliberate the decision “My dad said: ‘It’s your career, your life. Go ahead and do it if you want to give it a shot.” A move to Nottingham on dual registration allowed him the freedom to learn the arts in the lower division. “It was a matter of setting small targets and taking small steps. I had my head shoved up my arse on more than one occasion, but I was always able to go back to Leicester and talk things through with the top players there.” He also ensured his coaches reviewed tapes of his games and were analytical on his performance; keen to seek out where he was making mistakes. Was there much hesitation in his decision to alter position? “I was a hard-running centre who enjoyed tackling and knew how to pick a decent line, but I couldn’t kick. I didn’t have the skills to really make the grade in midfield. I’m glad I made the switch, although I wouldn’t say it’s been easy.” His first outing as a number two was actually against his parent club in a friendly; an occasion he is not likely to forget in a hurry “The Leicester front row that day was Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter and Martin Castrogiovanni, all of them internationals. I was on painkillers for a week.”