- 14 players’ formative coaches formed guard of honour at Twickenham
- “He’s the guy who made me enjoy rugby” – Youngs on his first coach
“Very bubbly, incredibly enthusiastic, loved the game, loved having the ball in his hands and running about – that’s what we tried to encourage.”
That is Mike Bush reflecting on what England scrum half Ben Youngs was like when he first met the four year-old at Holt Rugby Club in Norfolk. And, refreshingly, the Leicester Tigers man remains the same effervescent, buoyant person as a professional athlete.
Bush was one of 14 England players’ formative coaches invited by QBE to provide a guard of honour on the Twickenham pitch ahead of the QBE International against Australia at the end of November.
Youngs, who started at No.9 in the 26-17 victory over the Wallabies, credits his mini and junior coach with providing an environment where kids could enjoy themselves – the most important factor for a youngster starting out in the game.
“I went down to Sunday rugby and he’s the guy who made me enjoy it,” said the 25 year-old. “That’s the only reason I carried on playing – because I loved it – and it’s good to give back to them because they were there every Sunday for the love of the game too. There are lots people out there doing that every Sunday.”
The grassroots coaches were present at Twickenham to highlight the work of the QBE Coaching Club, which will recruit and retain 2,015 new level two coaches by 2015. They were identified by the players as individuals who had an enduring impact in their early years.
Passionate flanker Tom Wood selected Marc Thomas from Coundon Court School in Coventry, a man who imparted a huge amount of the mental fortitude we see from the Northampton man each time he pulls on an England shirt.
“He [Thomas] wore his heart on his sleeve as a player and he did as a coach as well,” said Wood from the Twickenham tunnel. “Rugby can be an emotional game at times and if you harness it and use it in the right way it is a real strength, but if it gets on top of you in can be your undoing as well. That’s always something I have focussed on and I think it’s stood me pretty well so far.
“He taught me a lot about the emotional side so it’s something I’ve definitely picked up off him. I’ve always been a massive advocate of giving as much back as possible and recognising the hard work that other people have put into my career and my journey. It’s great to be able to repay, in a small way, all the efforts they have put in.”
And expressive character Thomas admitted it would be a struggle to keep his emotions under control as Wood and the England players filed past him to take the field for an important Test match.
Thomas said: “Every time I watch him play it’s one of those lump in the throat moments, and being pitchside is going to be a real moment. I’ll probably take with me to the grave.
“He never missed a session for me and because of that he was a big role model in the school. Lots of the kids looked up to him anyway, with the fact that he hated losing another good reason. He wanted to be the best, he wanted to drag people along with him and that meant the sides that he was in all turned up and got stuck in with him.”
There was also a moving moment for England full back Mike Brown. His father Mick, who took up coaching at Salisbury RFC to spend time more time with his son, suffers from multiple sclerosis and spends much of his time in a wheelchair, but stood to take his place along the other coaches as Mike took the field.
Brown added: “I’d definitely put him up there as one of the best coaches I’ve had. It was great and I tried not to get too emotional when I looked over and saw him standing there.”