- This is Rugby: Game of our Lives
Martin Crowson of the Leicester Mercury talks to Ben Youngs about his life in rugby.
One of Ben Youngs’ earliest memories is of a few old irrigation pipes being made into a set of rugby posts in the back garden of the family farm in Aylsham, Norfolk.
The posts served to focus the numerous hectares of land into a more managable sports plot on which Ben and older brother Tom could hone the skills that would eventually turn them both into professional rugby players for Leicester Tigers.
Two decades on from that childhood memory, on a Saturday afternoon in November 2012, the siblings were proudly singing the national anthem at the Home of England Rugby as the tenth set of brothers to play together for their country in that 54-12 win over Fiji.
With their father Nick – a former England and Tigers scrum half – watching from the crowd, it was a moment that would stand the test of time for all of them.
It's a family affair
The modern professional often admits that he is too busy training and playing to really reflect on his career until he finally plays his last game. When 28-year-old Ben leaves the changing room for the last time, that moment before kick-off against Fiji will epitomise his life in rugby.
For not only have the values of rugby and his club, Leicester, helped form his character but his family have been there every step of the way, not only in support and encouragement but with brother Tom in the changing room too.
Father and farmer Nick played for Leicester 145 times and earned six England caps, six years before Ben was born. His lads would go and watch him play at Welford Road but instead of forcing the sport on them, rather appropriately for a farming family, he helped their interest to grow."Dad played for England and Tigers but I never asked him too much about it."
“Dad played for England and Tigers but I never asked him too much about it and he didn’t speak about it too much either,” said Youngs.
“But I instinctively had a chain reaction in liking the game because of the love that my dad had for the sport. My love of rugby arrived early but it was never forced on us.
“We loved playing it when we were younger. The farm gave us freedom to run about everywhere and my cousins would come around to play. Then I started playing junior rugby for Holt RFC because that is where all my cousins were.
“Tom and I were never overly competitive with each other but, when our cousins came for a game, it could get quite tasty.”
A Leicester love affair
As it became clear that there was plenty of talent to match the enthusiasm in their son, Mum (Trot) and Dad’s taxi service kicked into full gear and they didn’t have to wait long until Ben was emulating his dad and brother by pulling on a Tigers shirt. At the age of 17 years and 231 days, he became the youngest-ever player to represent the club in the league match on April 24, 2007 when he came off the bench against Bristol.
It was the start of the love he has had for the club ever since, just like his dad and brother. And in a traditional hotbed of English rugby like Leicester, it was no surprise that he found a work ethic to match the ones he had grown up with."The values of the club are similar to the ones that my brother and I hold."
“The values of the club are similar to the ones that my brother and I hold. It is a family environment and a family club. It is very honest and hard-working. My family is similar to that. Everyone is very humble and you are very grateful for what you do,” said Youngs.
“That respect and work ethic are there at the club every day and everyone knows how things are done.”
Brothers in arms
Youngs’ club form during an incredible spell which saw Leicester reach the Aviva Premiership final on nine consecutive occasions opened the door to caps for club, country and British & Irish Lions.
Having stood shoulder to shoulder with his brother in an England shirt just seven months earlier, Ben would do the same in a Lions shirt during the successful 2013 tour of Australia. In the second Test in Melbourne, they became the 14th set of Lions brothers and the first siblings to start a Lions Test together in 24 years.
“Going on tour with Tom in 2013 was incredible. I was part of a winning tour in Australia with my brother and close mates Tom Croft and Dan Cole. Loads of my family were over there. It was never going to get any better than that.”"Going on tour with Tom in 2013 was incredible...it was never going to get better."
Ben returned to the England squad in the autumn series adding to his 70-plus caps and is determined to continue playing at the highest level.
“I know full well that you have to be playing well for your club to have a chance of playing international rugby,” he said. “You also have to enjoy the ride. Some of my mates have told me how quickly your international career can end, so I know to enjoy it while I can.
“My clear goal is to be in this side for the World Cup in 2019 and we have unbelievable potential here.”
Ben’s two children, Boris (3) and Billie (18 months), will undoubtedly grow up in a rugby environment and, with the sport running through their veins, who knows what the future holds?