Rugby World Cup winner Matt Dawson - Ben Youngs is best man for England job
World Cup winner Matt Dawson has called on England boss Stuart Lancaster to forgive and forget this summer and hand the Aviva Premiership's form scrum half Ben Youngs the number nine jersey in South Africa.
Norwich-born Youngs has experienced a difficult 12 months, losing two consecutive Aviva Premiership finals with Leicester, enduring a difficult World Cup campaign as England limped out at the quarter-final stage to France and also losing his international number nine jersey to Northampton's Lee Dickson.
However, Dawson is convinced after a stop-start season in which he finished the Six Nations as back-up scrum half for Lancaster's England – Youngs is now back to his very best.
Youngs, who attended Greshams School and played junior rugby for Holt, has been an integral cog for Leicester in March, April and May as the Tigers put together a run of 11 consecutive wins to reach their eighth consecutive Aviva Premiership final.
And during that run – Dawson has been impressed with what he's seen from Youngs in a Leicester shirt.
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'It has helped Ben Youngs that Leicester have come into a bit of form and he's got into the rhythm of playing and getting back to the basics well,' said Dawson, who was at Twickenham working with the Aviva Premiership Rugby Schools Programme, which is designed to increase participation in the sport and unearth young England stars of the future.
'His skills are superb. He's coming back to form and would possibly be the best number nine for England so it gives Stuart Lancaster a hell of a decision to make this summer in South Africa.
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'If you need inventiveness and your forward pack is going well – you want a threat and that's why Ben Youngs is your man.
'He's a quality player and he has a good understanding of the game. He organises well and when you put all those characteristics together the opposition have to look out for you.'
Just like during the 2003 World Cup, where Sir Clive Woodward had the luxury of selecting his number nine from Andy Gomarsall, Dawson or Kyran Bracken – Lancaster has an avalanche of quality to choose from in South Africa. As well as Youngs – Lancaster also has Harlequins number nine Danny Care and Northampton's Lee Dickson in his travelling party for South Africa. Youngs was the number one choice for the number nine jersey during Martin Johnson's tenure, while Dickson finished the Six Nations as England's preferred scrum half. And despite opting for Youngs – Dawson admits Lancaster is blessed with options at nine and admits all three would be a worthy starter for England in South Africa.
'There are three good scrum-halves in England with Lee Dickson at Northampton, Danny Care and Ben Youngs – all three are very talented indeed,' added Dawson. 'You can only see the three of them going through to the World Cup if they stay healthy.
'Lee Dickson is the current incumbent. He is a lot more pragmatic than Youngs and Care. If you wanted a scrum-half that you knew what you were going to get from them, he'd be your man.
'To organise the forwards in the big, high pressure games, he's the one you go for, while Danny Care has been playing very well for Harlequins at the back end of the season.
'Any country in the world would love to have three scrum-halves of that quality so it's a great position for Stuart Lancaster, less so for the players.'
Ben Youngs will be joined on England's tour of South Africa next month by his older brother and fellow Tiger Tom, who has rapidly transformed himself from a former Under-20 international centre into a Test prospect at hooker. With Dylan Hartley almost certain to be first choice for the three Tests, Tom who also attended Gresham's School and played for Holt in his early years – will be hoping to gain experience in the two midweek games.
The Aviva Premiership Rugby Schools Programme is designed to increase participation in the sport and unearth young England stars of the future. Find out more at avivapremiershiprugby.com