- Scrum half reflects on recent strong form in England shirt
- French No. 9s always a threat, says Youngs
Scrum half Ben Youngs reckons his recent performances for England show he is maturing as a player and becoming a valuable asset to Stuart Lancaster’s side.
The 23-year-old has started the past four matches in the No.9 shirt, playing a key role in England’s record 38-21 win over New Zealand in the autumn and in both of the team’s victories against Scotland and Ireland in this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
Having played against southern and northern hemisphere opposition in the past four matches, Youngs has been required to drastically tailor his approach at scrum half to suit the opponent and the conditions. The attacking flair of New Zealand created an open game in which he was given opportunity to exploit gaps out wide and around the breakdown, while against Ireland he was relied on for his tactical kicking and ability as a defensive marshal.
The continued evolution of England’s game under Lancaster, which has included an improvement in the speed of ball from breakdowns (less than four seconds per ruck against Scotland), means that Youngs’ role linking forwards and backs has become even more prominent. Playing a full 80 minutes against Ireland showed the strength of his performance and he is happy to adapt his game.
“It was right up there as a team performance [against Ireland],” said the Leicester Tigers man. “We have shown our capabilities of playing other styles and brands of rugby. In the Scotland game we played a high-tempo fast game and really took it to them, while Ireland was a very pragmatic approach, playing in the right areas of the field and doing right things in terms of squeezing them. As a team we are very happy and personally as well I am delighted at how things went.
“I think my game has matured a lot and I was able to show a different style of game which I probably don’t play too often. It was probably more pragmatic and smart, getting the guys in the right areas of the field, but that’s all done and dusted but we now have to move on to France. It was good to get a result against Ireland but now all the focus is on that now.”
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Youngs has played against the French twice in the RBS 6 Nations and was part of the side that beat them 17-9 at Twickenham in 2011. In that match opposite number Dimitri Yachvili scored all the points for Les Bleus, while the year before at Stade de France, fellow scrum half Morgan Parra kicked three penalties in their 12-10 win over England.
The emphasis France place on dominant scrum halves has not slipped under Youngs’ radar and he knows the threat of players like Parra, nicknamed Le Petit General, but said he will play his own game on Saturday.
“I have played against Parra ten times now and I know a lot of the things that they do in France revolves around the nine. Parra takes control, whether he plays a bit of zig-zag, left right rugby whatever. He is an extremely organised scrum half and kicks in the right areas, and is also a tremendous goal kicker so he might be in the frame for the weekend.
“Whether you play Australia or New Zealand or whoever you don’t often have a one-on-one battle with the opposite nine. You are so busy doing your own role that quite often you can’t really become involved in a one-on-one tussle. Your mind-set going into the game is to get your bits right and don’t worry about opposition nine.”