January 31 2015 Latest news:
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
With the Rugby World Cup looming, David Freezer speaks to England internationals Ben and Tom Youngs ahead of the Norfolk brothers’ domestic season starting with Leicester Tigers.
God Save the Queen is being roared out, national pride is at its peak, the foundations of Twickenham are shaking to their core – and in the centre of it all are two Norfolk brothers in arms.
At least, that is the dream for Ben and Tom Youngs, the tantalising carrot on the end of a shortening stick.
The date is Friday, September 18, 2015, the clock is ticking towards 8pm and England are about to begin the Rugby World Cup on home turf with their opening pool match against Fiji.
It is a privilege that the Youngs brothers have been fortunate to experience before with both England and the British & Irish Lions.
The Aylsham duo have both struggled to keep their bubbling pride beneath the surface when lining up alongside each other for similarly big matches.
But nothing can prepare them for what they could be a part of in a little over a year’s time: a home World Cup. However, the former North Walsham and Holt junior players have a long, hard season ahead of them if they are to make that dream a reality.
“We’ve talked about the World Cup a little bit but I don’t think we’ll really realise until we are in it how big it is going to be in this country,” Tom said.
“You’ve just got to look at the Olympics and how big that grew, so to get the chance to play in a home World Cup is just fantastic and just hopefully we’ll get a chance to do it.
“There’s a long road from here to there though, you’ve got to perform well at your club.”
The brothers begin their bid to be included in England’s World Cup squad on Saturday, when they are hoping to be in Aviva Premiership action for Leicester Tigers against Newcastle Falcons at Welford Road.
“We need to get our domestic season started before thinking about England,” said Ben.
“Obviously with the World Cup everyone is aware that it is there but at the same time there is so much rugby to be played between now and the World Cup, it’s important to not peak too early and to get back into the club system.
“We’ve then got the Autumns (QBE Internationals against New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia at Twickenham in November) and the Six Nations so you’ve got to target each tournament at a time really.”
Tom, a 27-year-old hooker, has enjoyed an incredible rise to prominence since converting from centre to hooker in recent seasons, being named Aviva Premiership Player of the Year in 2013 after helping Leicester claim their 10th Premiership title.
He has so far claimed 17 England caps but faces formidable competition for the number two shirt in Stuart Lancaster’s side, in the shape of Northampton captain Dylan Hartley.
“There’s no bones about it, there is a rivalry there,” Tom continued. “I don’t think we should shy away from that because it only brings the best out of both of us.
“I look forward to the challenge, I’m sure he looks forward to the challenge and you’ve got the likes of Rob Webber (Bath) and Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter) is a young lad coming through.
“So there’s competition there, it’s not just me and Dylan, so it’s really good for the England selectors and good for the clubs as well because we’ll all be trying to do well.
“We’ve (Leicester) just signed Leonardo Ghiraldini whose an Italian international so again it’s competition for me, which keeps you on your toes and always keeps you working hard.”
Ben, who turns 25 later this week, has been capped 38 times at scrum-half by England and has played almost 150 games for Leicester.
He faces equally tough competition for his international place though, with Harlequins’ Danny Care currently in possession of the number nine shirt for the Red Rose.
The duo continued their battle during this summer’s tour of New Zealand – which Tom asked not to be selected for, so he could support his wife during treatment for a health problem.
The tour saw Ben start the first Test, a narrow 20-15 defeat, and Care the second Test, an excruciating 28-27 loss.
Ben was again started in the third Test, as Care was struggling with a shoulder problem, and received high praise for his performance despite England eventually losing 36-13 to the world champions.
“It was disappointing as a team to not win a game, we came close to doing it but got beaten pretty comfortably,” Ben continued.
“But on a personal front to get out there and start two of the three games and get back in the mix with England, which is always nice, it was an enjoyable tour and we introduced a lot of new players to the team so I think we can only get better from that.
“I think me and Danny have just got to carry on doing what we’re doing at our clubs and we’ll always battle it out I suppose. One of the things it will come down which sort of style they want to play in a game and whoever is in better form at the time.
“Stuart (Lancaster), pictured, has always said to all his players he will pick whoever is in form so from our point of view you have just got to make sure that you are playing well week in, week out for your club, that your performances are very good, and hopefully he’ll reward you with the starting jersey.”
There may still be plenty of hard work before the Youngs brothers can begin to dream of World Cup glory but Tom believes England supporters can allow themselves to dream.
He added: “We’re a young side and we’re really starting to build on stuff. It’s a big year for us, before the World Cup, and it’s about performing really well in the Autumns and in the Six Nations and go from there really for the World Cup warm-up games.
“I think we can win it, I don’t think you should ever go into any sort of tournament not thinking you can win it. I think we definitely can win it, we’ve got the potential to.
“We’ve still got a bit to learn but hopefully we can learn that in thew next 12 months.”
Tickets for Leicester’s opening Aviva Premiership match, at home against Newcastle on Saturday, are on sale now. For details, go to www.leicestertigers.com or call the Welford Road ticket office on 0844 856 1880.
Leicester will also host Tigers In The Park, a free community event with activities and entertainment for all the family at the stadium from 10am on Saturday to mark the start of the new season.