England scrum-half Ben Youngs bounced back brilliantly on his 100th international appearance with a touch of his old swagger against Ireland
- The 30-year-old had been left out of England’s starting XV against Scotland
- Youngs was reinstated against Ireland and impressed in the 24-12 victory
- England’s first try came from his astute low kick through the Irish 22 on Sunday
If Eddie Jones intended it to be a shock to the system, it worked a treat. Ben Youngs was left out of England’s starting XV against Scotland, then reinstated against Ireland. The response was emphatic.
He might have said all the right things about being content to do his bit as one of Jones’s so-called ‘finishers’, but the England bench is not his usual domain.
The Leicester scrum half was back in his familiar No 9 shirt on Sunday at Twickenham and he showed that he still belongs on that stage.
Ben Youngs produced a vintage display after being recalled against Ireland on Sunday
Youngs produced a vintage display — full of energy and instinctive, off-the-cuff, heads-up attacking play. But he was also canny in his creativity.
England’s first try came from the 30-year-old’s astute low kick through the Irish 22 and over the line, which Johnny Sexton fumbled and George Ford pounced on to score.
It was a perfectly executed assist and the reaction was telling. While Ford was mobbed by several team-mates, Youngs walked away calmly. He was offered water and took a few swigs. There was no evident emotion. He gave a quick thumbs-up as the congratulations came in, but that was it. He was firmly in business mode.
Furthermore, it demonstrated the game-management aspect of Youngs’ repertoire, which has come to the fore during Jones’ tenure as England head coach. The scorching scrum half of his younger years has evolved into a shrewd operator.
The scorching scrum half of his younger years has evolved into a shrewd operator for England
Speaking before the match with Ireland, he had reflected on the way his job has altered over time, while insisting that it gives him as much satisfaction as ever.
‘The role of a nine has changed so much,’ he said. ‘It’s just like a game of chess now. Is it less fun? No, I still absolutely love it, but the game is now a lot more about being tactically smart.
‘Early on (in his Test career), defences weren’t so organised and so quick off the line, so you could get momentum and front-foot ball. The game has changed a lot but maybe that’s why I’ve been able to do this for a long time — by adapting to those changes in the game.’
Youngs was also adamant that, despite the strategic shifts over the years, he would still be backed by the England coaches to revert to his instincts and gamble when the chance presented itself.
He was asked if he could still dummy and go on his own line, as he did to set up a classic, length-of-the-pitch try for Chris Ashton against Australia in 2010 — when he was still a Test rookie.
Not only is the 30-year-old a leader, he remains a popular figure within the England squad
‘Absolutely — 100 per cent,’ he said. ‘It would be nice to get one like that again!’
Sunday’s performance was a throwback. On various occasions Youngs was back in that 2010 guise, running at defenders and creating openings with glimpses of the old swagger.
It backed up the pre-match tribute from clubmate Jonny May, who said: ‘What a great player he’s been. He is extremely talented and you could argue he is still improving and learning. He speaks so well and he is so experienced. He is a genuine leader.’
Not only is Youngs a leader, he remains a popular figure within the England squad.
May spoke about how his fellow Tiger’s innately decent nature has served him well in his career and that was evident when Ireland full-back Jordan Larmour was injured on Sunday and Youngs came over to check on him.
After all the years of playing at the top level, there is still no trace of arrogance.
But the fixture at Twickenham two days ago was a significant personal occasion for him. It was his 98th Test for England, but a century of international caps — as he played two Tests for the Lions back in 2013.
So when Youngs was replaced just before the hour mark, having helped to propel the hosts into a commanding position, he was loudly acclaimed by the crowd and earned the dubious reward of a bear-hug from Joe Marler.
Against Scotland, Youngs had surrendered his preferred shirt to Willi Heinz, but it was a short-term loan.
On a day when Ireland’s veteran half-backs endured a glaring fall from grace, the opposite was true for England’s pre-eminent scrum half. He re-asserted himself, with an eye on being around for some time yet.
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