Meyer's Tiger on the big stage

Fri, 09 Nov 2012 19:16
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After being persuaded to switch from centre to hooker by Heyneke Meyer three years ago, Tom Youngs is preparing to make his England debut on Saturday.

After being persuaded to switch from centre to hooker by Heyneke Meyer three years ago, Tom Youngs is preparing to make his England debut on Saturday.

The Leicester player, who was finally persuaded to change positions by then Tigers boss Meyer, now South Africa's coach, will see three years of hard, physical work rewarded on Saturday when he starts against Fiji at Twickenham.

His rugby transformation started in 2009 with a loan spell at Leicester's Midlands rivals Nottingham which saw him playing in the No.2 shirt against his parent club.

"My first 80 minutes as hooker was a warm-up game for Nottingham against Leicester," Youngs, now 25, recalled.

"I played against Marcos Ayerza, Mefin Davies and Martin Castrogiovanni and I was on painkillers for the rest of the week.

"My dad (former England scrum-half Nick Youngs) rang me after the game and said, 'Where are you?'.

"I said, 'I am sitting on the wall outside and I can't move. You are going to have to come to me!'.

"He looked at me. I was absolutely knackered. I could hardly hold my neck up. He asked if I had enjoyed it.

"I said, 'You know what, I did'. I don't know what I enjoy about it. It is the physicality, the challenge of it. I love it.

"In life, if you don't enjoy challenges what is the point in living? I think the whole process has made me a better person."

Doubts still remain about the strong-running Youngs's set-piece work at scrum and line-out - hardly surprising given he's just seven league and two European Cup starts at hooker - but the man himself believes there's no better place to learn his trade than Welford Road.

"Leicester are a great front-row club. We pride ourselves on our scrummaging and they have been so supportive," Youngs said.

"I had the ability to go back to Leicester, do all my strength and conditioning there and speak to guys like Dan Cole and George Chuter.

"I would ask them to look at a couple of scrums on video and tell me what I could do better. Then it was a case of putting into practice what they were telling me.

"It was very hard because in a game you have to get the feeling of the scrum. You have to turn what they have told you into an instant reaction."

England forwards coach Graham Rowntree, himself a former Leicester front row forward, is in no doubt of Youngs's ability to learn on the job.

Initially it was a development selection. Youngs had not even started a Premiership match at hooker and he made two midweek appearances in South Africa.

"The signs are he is going to be a very, very good player," Rowntree said.

Youngs's younger brother Ben has stolen a march on his sibling by already winning 24 England caps at scrumhalf, although he is on the bench as back-up to Danny Care against Fiji.

But the debutant Test hooker is in no doubt about what it would mean if they were on the field at the same time on Saturday and so became the first brothers to play together for England since Steffon and Delon Armitage in 2009.

"To watch your brother run out at Twickenham, it doesn't get much more special than that but we can top it tomorrow by both playing," said Tom Youngs.