Youngs eager to face French 'generals'
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: After England coach Eddie Jones talked of a "war" against France on Saturday, scrumhalf Ben Youngs said opposite number Baptiste Serin was the latest French rugby "general".
Jones may be Australian but he was happy to cite the long history of military conflicts between England and France as evidence of what fans could expect when his Grand Slam champions begin their Six Nations title defence against Les Bleus at Twickenham.
Yet it was a different sort of history that came to mind for Youngs.
The 27-year-old was not born when his father Nick, also a Leicester and England scrum-half, won the last of his six Test caps in 1984.
Instead one of his childhood rugby heroes was France scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili.
Youngs and his father were both in the Twickenham crowd in 2005 when Yachvili kicked all of France's points in a remarkable 18-17 win where then world champions England led 17-6 at half-time.
"I still see it as a very special game," said Youngs of matches between England and France.
"I remember going to the game with my dad when Dmitri Yachvili kicked all the points. I was sitting in the stand and my dad was fuming at the ill-discipline."
Whereas the flyhalf is often seen as the key playmaker in the back division, in France the focus is on the scrumhalf, with Bordeaux-Begles's 22-year-old Serin the latest to wear the shirt.
It possibly all began with Jacques Fouroux, a scrumhalf and the captain of France's 1977 Grand Slam team, whose nickname was 'Le Petit Caporal' (the Little Corporal).
But by the time Youngs was watching rugby, France's scrum-half had undergone a huge 'promotion' in rank.
"For me growing up Yachvili, he was the master. I would watch him play for France or Biarritz in the European Cup," recalled Youngs.
"He was a real general. Serin and [Maxime] Machenaud [France's reserve scrumhalf at Twickenham] are both generals in terms of the No 9."
England may be firm favourites to win on Saturday but Youngs saw enough in France's 25-23 and 24-19 home defeats by Australia and New Zealand respectively in November to remain wary of being on the wrong end of some classic 'French flair' rugby.
"They were two points short of Australia and they pushed New Zealand. We know they're a threat for sure," said Youngs, who came off the bench when England beat France 31-21 in Paris last year to clinch the Grand Slam.
"The thing with France is that you could be six points ahead let's say, and it doesn't look like they're breaking you down, but it just takes one or two offloads and they're behind you and they've got you," he added.
"No team has a threat like they do in terms of some of the stuff they can do."
It was England defence coach Paul Gustard, a history buff, who raised the issue of Anglo-French confrontation.
But according to Youngs, he got rather more than he bargained for when wing Jonny May tried to answer a question about what lay behind it all.
"He went 'coz they obviously don't like each other! 'They fell out, 'bad friends', and 'are they not good mates?'
"He was right on cue with that one. Eddie liked it."