Ben Youngs will dare to dream of England’s greatest moments
- Credit: PA
Ahead of England beginning their attempts to win the World Cup on home soil, David Freezer spoke to Norfolk scrum-half Ben Youngs about the major role he has to play in the sport's showpiece.
Lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy at Twickenham and uniting England in celebration may still be just a dream for Ben Youngs in the final days running up to the World Cup – that will not stop Norfolk's finest daring to dream though.
Youngs is set to win his 50th England cap when Fiji provide the opposition for the tournament curtain-raiser on Friday night.
Add to that a successful British & Irish Lions tour of Australia in 2013, the 2011 Six Nations title, four Premiership titles with Leicester and a host of personal accolades – and you could say that the scrum-half has already achieved an incredible amount at just 26 years of age.
However, the hard work is only just beginning.
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If Youngs and his elder brother, Tom, are to achieve English sporting immortality and help the Red Rose to the global summit on home soil, they will need every moment of experience they have crammed into their careers so far.
For ahead of Stuart Lancaster's side lies a treacherous path to glory.
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The fire-breathing dragons of Wales and the stylish Wallabies of Australia must be defeated in the much-hyped Pool of Death before even greater foes can be considered.
Youngs junior will continue to dream of the tremendous possibilities within his grasp though – as he believes it will prove key in making them a reality.
'For me personally, yeah, you do think about it, you do dream about it because you've got to try and visualise what it would be like,' the former Holt and North Walsham junior player said.
'You've got to be able to see yourself getting there because you've got to be able to visualise yourself being there, because you want to be there, and set yourself that goal.
'So you get time to think about it and think about how amazing it would be but you've also got to give yourself targets day by day, to go out there and work hard and train well, because if you start looking too far ahead, you forget what you're doing in front of you.
'For sure, see what it would be like and you get the sense as it's building the closer and closer we get how amazing it would be, but as a player you've got to realise the things you do day in, day out, are what's going to actually get you there.
'So you can dream about it but then you've got to give yourself a little, hang on, wait. It's getting that balance right because you have got to keep seeing it to keep motivated.'
Youngs is in pole position to wear England's number nine shirt throughout the tournament after an outstanding Six Nations, which saw him shorlisted for the Player of the Championship award, being voted into sixth place. The former Holt and North Walsham junior player now has the task of controlling the rhythm, pace and direction of England's play against the world's best – a world way from growing up on his family's farm near Aylsham.
'I think when you're growing up and playing local rugby like I was back in Norfolk you play because your mates plays and because you enjoy it,' the former Gresham's School pupil continued.
'On a Sunday when you're aged 10 or 11 or whatever it may be, you're trying to replicate the player that you've just watched over the weekend.
'So that's all it is really, you just love playing, but if someone had told me that I'd have the opportunity to perhaps play in the 2015 World Cup in England, I don't know, I'd have just laughed, it would have seemed crazy.'
And Youngs – who married his partner, Charlotte, in Norfolk this summer – is not about to forget his rural roots either.
'My first coach in local rugby was at Holt Rugby Club, Michael Bush. His son played and like a lot of Sunday football or rugby, one of the fathers was the coach, so he was the coach and he really got me enthusiastic about the game.
'He made training enjoyable, especially at that age when you attention span isn't too long. So he had a big influence, certainly in my early days in terms of making sure I really enjoyed myself and found my love for the game.
'John Curry who was the North Walsham coach for a while, he played a good part, and then Dusty Hare was probably the main one, he was the actual guy who saw me, scouted me and got me to Leicester.
'So without those guys I'm not sure I'd be where I am today and I'm very grateful that I was able to meet these people and also utilise their knowledge to help me.'
Youngs played at full-back and fly-half as a youngster, before Leicester legend Hare switched him to scrum-half at 16
With his father, Nick, having played at scrum-half for Leicester and picked up six England caps in the 1980s, it was perhaps a natural progression – and he remains grateful for the support of his family and friends back home.
'My dad absolutely loves coming to watch myself and my brother play, whether that's here or at club level, him and my mum love coming to watch us.
'Whenever I go back home people are always very generous and complimentary about what we've been up to.
'Without doubt Norfolk will always be home to me and whenever I go back it's very nice and people are very complimentary.'
Help England to win the World Cup – and those compliments may very well last a lifetime.