Norfolk’s Tom Youngs is ready to rumble for the Lions
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Tom Youngs strikes you as a man who takes most things in his stride. But this son of Norfolk will allow himself a brief moment before today's first Lions' Test against Australia to savour the magnitude of his personal achievement.
Barely four years ago, the Aylsham-bred hooker was starting out on his second rugby career in the less frenetic surroundings of Nottingham's front-row; a million miles away from Brisbane.
'Even at the beginning of this season I wouldn't have thought about playing for the British and Irish Lions,' said the newly-crowned Premiership player-of-the-year.
'It is a dream come true. It is quite hard to take in at the moment, but when I am standing in that changing room and running out, words cannot describe probably what will be going through my head.
'My heart will be pumping. I cannot wait for it, really. You have to prepare yourself for however long you can go for. I'm going to go as hard as I can for as long as I can. When my engine runs out or when the coaches feel it's right to pull me out of the game, Richard Hibbard will come on. He's a great player, he will come on and be very physical and do well.'
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Youngs readily admits his initial transition from a schoolboy centre was not without teething problems.
'It was quite hard at first,' said the Leicester Tiger. 'I could put the weight on quite easily, but I couldn't carry it around the park so I had to drop a couple of kilos and build it up slowly over the course of the season.
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'That was quite difficult, but at the end of the day it was all about playing as many games as I possibly could in the season.
'When I was at Nottingham I played more than 60 games for them over two seasons. I started pretty much every game, and 80 minutes of every game, just to get that repetition of playing at hooker.'
The 26-year-old insisted he never had any second thoughts about dropping down to play his club rugby at Nottingham from the more impressive surroundings of Welford Road.
'I remember ringing my dad up and saying something along the lines of 'I don't really mind if I don't make it back to the Premiership - I am loving it playing hooker and playing at Nottingham',' he said. 'That was the thing. Because I enjoyed it so much I committed to it so much more. It wasn't like a chore for me to go and do it.
'I loved the physicality of the game. I loved every minute of it. There were times when I was getting my head shoved up my backside, but, looking back on it, those experiences made me a better player. I have never regretted the decision at all.'
Youngs knows the battle in the engine room against the Wallabies' pack will be intense. The Lions' Test novice is up against 76 times-capped Australian hooker Stephen Moore, a player who has operated at the highest level since 2005.
'I have watched him, and he is a great player, a proven pro over the years with Australia,' said Youngs. 'I actually know one of his friends very well, so I kind of know him through a friend. He is a nice guy and I am looking forward to playing against him.
'The set-piece in any game is massive, but there is going to be an extra edge to it. We are all really looking forward to it and cannot wait for the battle to come.'