It was a sad but wonderful day at Welford Road last weekend. The Welford Road faithful showed their appreciation with a full house for the retiring Tom Youngs. There is no question that Tom Youngs goes down as one of the great Leicester Tigers, no mean feat when you think of the legends that go before him. The legacy that he leaves behind at Leicester is significant but that should not detract from the legacy he leaves on the professional game in England. Tom Youngs must be the only professional rugby player who made a successful transition from the centres to a hooker. And he did it so successfully that he played 28 times for England and played in all three tests on the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.
Tom Youngs: A Leicester Tigers’ and England Rugby Legend
It cannot be underestimated how difficult it is to switch to any positions on the rugby field. Professional rugby continues to evolve and change the season in and season out. Players continue to get stronger, and quicker and rugby, in general, is more strategic than it has ever been. Every position requires analysis and specialized training – none more so than being a rugby hooker. The versatility of the likes of Elliot Daly has been long admired. In Daly’s case, he can play in the centres, on the wing and at full-back, such are his overall talents. However, without demeaning Daly in any shape or form what Tom Youngs has done goes way beyond.
Tom Youngs in 2006 and in the semi-amateur rugby world
Tom Youngs back in 2006 was a crash-ball centre and highly capable. Following in the footsteps of a great rugby family, Ben and Tom were the latest talents coming off the Youngs production line. Nick Youngs, the dad was an excellent rugby player at Leicester and with England. However, Tom struggled to get into the Leicester first team, so the then South African Tigers’ coach Heyneke Meyer suggested a change to hooker. Richard Cockerill, who was part of the famous ABC front row alongside Darren Garforth and Graham Rowntree encouraged the move further so Youngs was sent to Nottingham to learn his trade.
In the tough world of semi-amateur rugby and men, Youngs rolled up his sleeves and devoted his attention to learning the dark arts to being in the front row. It meant changing his diet, bulking up and training – completely. No easy task when in a previous life he was running around in the backs. The role of a number two has many pressures, more than perhaps a scrum-half/fly-half. The pressure of hitting your jumpers whilst defending your line or having a tonne of weight go through your shoulders during scrum-time among two of them. Most would have stopped or transitioned back to their former position. Not Tom Youngs. The tougher the challenge the more Youngs wanted to excel and conquer.
The importance of brotherhood
Younger brother Ben, in his own right, a Tigers and England legend, and still going strong interviewed Tom in the lead-up to last weekend. It is compelling viewing (see the link below) and bucks the trend of most rugby interviews, which can be very one-sided.
These two remarkable brothers have played nearly 500 games for the Leicester Tigers and well over 100 caps for England. They remain humble, immensely likeable young men. You can clearly see the bond they have as brothers let alone the many times they took to the rugby field together. Among we lesser mortals, there would be grounds for understandable jealously, which is especially true from Tom. Ben’s career went into the stratosphere in 2009 for club and country – whilst Tom was wondering whether he would ever make the top grade at club level. Yet, they are fiercely loyal and close to each other. They are also both supremely complimentary of each other’s careers.
Anyone watching the interview would not be without some emotion. Tom’s circumstances off the field are an obvious example. And yet, Tom, would still pitch into training, fulfil the very challenging duties of being the club captain without fuss despite the immense pressures he faced away from the rugby field. He is a man of finding solutions, not giving up, no matter the situation put in front of him. It is therefore of no surprise to learn of the achievements that he collected during his illustrious career. 215 caps for Leicester, 28 caps for England and three British Lions tests. Also, add in the 2013 Premiership title and during the same season, the Premiership player of the year. This is an outstanding achievement in anyone’s notebook.
Legacy of Tom Youngs
Youngs may not have had the all-around game of Jamie George or the technical nous of Dylan Hartley but he was ever-present during Stuart Lancaster’s reign as England coach. I remember his test debut in 2012 against Fiji. He was impressive in both the loose and the technical aspects of being a hooker. Youngs brought energy to England’s front row and it earned him a deserved spot on the triumphant 2013 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia. He played in all three tests – truly amazing given that he had only transitioned to being a full-time number two a few years previously.
His playing legacy for club, country, and the British Lions is assured. Youngs will be delighted that his beloved Leicester Tigers are heading back in the right direction of success. Last Saturday, they delivered a Tom Youngs-style performance against Bristol – tough, uncompromising and relentless. It was an appropriate and an entirely deserved send-off for one of England’s great rugby gentlemen. Everyone in the rugby community will wish him and his family well. What a player and what a man.
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