Less-trodden route has prepared Tom Youngs for his World Cup challenge

Englands Tom Youngs receives treatment for a head injury during the World Cup Warm Up match at the S

Englands Tom Youngs receives treatment for a head injury during the World Cup Warm Up match at the Stade-de-France, Paris. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Tom Youngs has been on an epic journey to reach the World Cup and told David Freezer he is fully focused on making the most of his hard work.

England's 31-man squad is packed with players who have found their path to the World Cup far from straight forward – but none have taken the long, perilous route navigated by Tom Youngs.

Just three years ago Youngs had not started at hooker in the Premiership for Leicester.

Now he is on the verge of starting the game's premier tournament, on home soil, in possession of the Red Rose number two shirt.

It is an incredible rise to prominence that has been littered with dizzying highs and worrying lows.

Despite that, the Norfolk-born star has reached his destination and now intends to make the very most of his opportunity.

'It doesn't really sink in,' the 28-year-old said of his inclusion in the England squad. 'You're just so focused on getting selected and then you'll be in to it.

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'It's very exciting, I think the whole country will get behind us massively. To play in a World Cup for me is humongous but to have it in your back yard is even better, it's just that much more special and I think everyone feels that.

'I think that's fantastic and we definitely feel that as players.'

His conversion from centre to a 'cannonball' international hooker famed for his hard work in the loose, did not come easily.

Vast amounts of physical work were needed to pile on the necessary muscle, after former Leicester head coach Heyneke Meyer identified that Youngs had the aggression for the rough and tumble of the front row.

That came after seeing the former Holt and North Walsham junior sin-binned in a second XV match for fighting a Saracens prop and the South African's belief proved correct.

The 2013 Aviva Premiership Player of the Year award followed, as did a major role in the British & Irish Lions winning their series in Australia in the same year.

'I played centre for a long, long time. I don't really look back on it too much and probably won't until I'm old and tired and my body is in bits,' Youngs continued.

'But I've obviously achieved some good things, some great things, but I still want to achieve a lot more. So my focus, my drive, is on the goals I want to get, not the goals that I've achieved.

'There were some dark times but I don't mind a bit of hard work.'

Among those dark times included ill-health for his wife, Tiffany, last summer leading to him missing England's tour of New Zealand.

With Mrs Youngs thankfully back to health, another obstacle was then placed in his World Cup path when a shoulder injury was picked up at the start of last season.

That ruled Youngs out of England's autumn internationals and he had to ease back into England action off the bench during the Six Nations, coming on for Dylan Hartley as England fell just short of the title.

With the experienced Northampton skipper then left out of Stuart Lancaster's squad for the World Cup due to ill-discipline, Youngs has his big chance – and he has not forgotten the people who helped him to reach this point.

'Richard Brearley and Simon Worrall at Gresham's School, the prep school, they were the first-team coaches there, they were huge influences,' Youngs said of his Norfolk roots.

'Graham Worrall, Simon's dad, in the senior school he taught me at under-16s. He was a hard taskmaster but he taught me a few good morals and stuff like that.

'And then Peter Farmer-Wright, who unfortunately isn't with us any more, he was a great coach at Gresham's as well.

'Then club-wise, John Curry, he coached at North Walsham and was a great influence. So there's been a few coaches, as well as our dad (Nick), who have been great influences.'

Youngs senior was a scrum-half for Leicester and was capped six times by England in the 1980s but both Tom and younger brother Ben insist their father was never overbearing in his encouragement.

The brothers can often be spotted on the sidelines supporting friends and family at North Walsham or Holt when at home – and still relish the support they receive.

'I went to play football and was rubbish at it, went to play rugby and enjoyed it so went back and carried on with that,' Tom added.

'We've got a big family, they all played rugby and we went down that route as well, so that's how it all started really.

'We get huge support from mum and dad and the rest of the family. They love coming down to Twickenham and watching us play, getting in the West Car Park and having a load of booze and stuff.

'They have a great time and really enjoy it. They're special moments for them and us, and it's great to have them with us so they can support us so well.'

If he can now grasp the huge opportunity within his grasp, the chance of even greater moments await.