When England face Ireland on Saturday as the Six Nations resumes, Leicester hooker Tom Youngs is likely to be on the replacements bench for the fifth consecutive time, with Northampton Saints captain Dylan Hartley again favourite to wear the number two jersey. Last season it was the opposite, with Youngs being the first choice hooker for the majority of England’s games, but the Norfolk born star very much understands the position he finds himself in at the moment.
“That’s professional rugby and that’s the way it is – there’s always going to be times when you’re not starting. Dylan’s playing really well at the moment and he’s had a fantastic season so far. It’s great to have that competition between us.”
Youngs, whilst admitting that the pair are fiercely competitive, is adamant that such rivalries for starting positions can only be good for the national team.
“We go hammer and tong when we play each other at club games and it’s the same when we’re at England. But we’re also there to help each other – it’s all about the team, winning and you’ve all got to pull together. “
Despite the current disappointment of not being in England’s starting fifteen, it has been a very special eighteen month period in the powerful front rower’s career. In June 2012 he was picked for the midweek side on England’s tour of South Africa and he eventually made his international debut in the autumn later that year, also playing in the famous win over New Zealand.
An Aviva Premiership title, Aviva Premiership Player of the Year award and Lions series success followed in 2013 but it is quickly evident that Youngs, son of former England scrum half Nick, is determined to win further honours.
“I don’t like looking back, I like looking forward. I’ll look back at that when my boots are hung up but at the moment I’ve got so much more I want to achieve in my game and get better at.”
The break between the second and third Six Nations fixtures is always a slow two week period, for players and fans alike, after the buzz surrounding the first two weekends. An unbeaten Ireland side are next up for Stuart Lancaster’s men on Saturday and England have been dealt a mammoth blow with the news that tighthead prop Dan Cole, who has been involved in every England match since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, except the two summer tests in Argentina last year when he was on Lions duty, will miss the rest of the campaign with a neck injury.
But Youngs is quick to downplay any suggestion that England cannot cope without his Leicester teammate.
“Dan’s a great player and it is a blow but luckily we have some great depth in that position – David Wilson is back fit and we’ve got Henry Thomas coming through nicely. Coley’s a loss but there’s a big opportunity for those two.” Indeed, Lancaster also agreed that England need to build experience in this position in order to be less reliant on Cole’s fitness.
As well as going into battle without Cole, Youngs’ brother Ben has also been left out of the match day squad by Stuart Lancaster for the third consecutive game. Does his brother’s omission affect him at all?
“It’s great playing with Ben for club and country but we’re both on our own journey. If one of us isn’t selected there’s nothing the other one can do to change the situation. It’s quite a selfish thing but it’s about his career and my career. He’s taken it really well and he’s working hard to get back in.”
Youngs is quick to praise Lancaster for the way he deals with players when they are not selected for an upcoming international.
“He’s very good at it. He tells you the truth. He wants you to go back to your club and improve. But not just Stuart – all the coaches are and they all work hard at making you better. “
In their opening Six Nations matches Ireland’s pack has been dominant in forward play against Scotland and Wales. Youngs is very aware of where their strengths lie up front.
“Their line out maul has been a great attacking weapon. Their pack has been playing well and they’re very strong at the breakdown. These are the games you want to play in, be a part of and we’re all looking forward to it.”
Coming to the end of our chat the inevitable Sam Burgess question is asked, but for now Youngs and the rest of the squad are clearly not too interested in the impact the Rugby League start might have in Union, and ultimately England’s success, in the future.
“It’s good to have him coming across and he’s a great player. But there hasn’t been much chat about it amongst the players. It’s not about the individual and we’re just focusing on Ireland.”
By Alastair Pickering (founder of @FollowRugbySite)
Tom Youngs was representing the England Rugby team to promote the NatWest Rugby Facebook page, where fans can get the latest news from grassroots rugby to the England first team as well as have the opportunity to win a host of fantastic prizes. Visit Facebook.com/natwestrugby