Eddie Jones paid tribute to Ben Youngs’s work since the “difficult” 2015 Rugby World Cup failure that paved the road to his 100th England cap this weekend, with the scrum-half set to become only the second men’s international to reach a century of appearances.
Youngs will join Jason Leonard as an England centurion this weekend, though his focus will need to be on the team’s performance as they look to turn their championship hopes into a reality on ‘Super Saturday’.
Three other players have also reached a century of caps in the women’s game in Rocky Clark, Tamara Taylor and Amy Garnett, but Leonard has stood on his own for more than 17 years as the only man to reach triple figures for England.
That will change on Saturday afternoon when Youngs runs out in Rome in what is a heavily changed team to face Italy in their final Six Nations match, and Jones believes the achievement is down to the way that the Leicester half-back rebuilt himself following the 2015 World Cup disappointment.
“I can only speak with great admiration of Benny,” Jones said. “He had a difficult World Cup in 2015 and since has worked extremely hard on his game.
“At his best he’s close to the best half-back in the world, he’s got a great running game, good kicking game and is an important, infectious character in our squad.”
Youngs arrived on the international stage with a bang as he scored on his first England start on the 2010 tour of Australia, making him the eighth-youngest try-scorer in England history,
Before becoming a mainstay in the squad under Martin Johnson, Stuart Lancaster and now Jones.
Youngs, whose father Neil also played for England as an international scrum-half, was taking his first steps at international level while half-back partner Owen Farrell was finding his feet with Saracens, but the England captain was quick to pay tribute to Youngs’ longevity on the global stage.
“I think everybody knows how good a player Ben is,” said Farrell, who returns to fly-half this weekend for the first time in seven Tests in the absence of George Ford.
“Not only for what he’s doing in recent times but for how long he’s been doing it.
“I remember he was in the England team when I was coming through, he was in at a very young age and stepped up to the plate very quickly. He’s obviously been doing it ever since.
“He’s brilliant to play with, a great driver of energy throughout the team, which is great for a scrum-half. He obviously keeps pace very well and gets the team on the front foot.”
Farrell paid tribute to Youngs’s longevity with England
England know that their best chance of winning the Six Nations this weekend is by piling on the points over Italy, who remain bottom of the table without a point to their name. The battle between England, Ireland and France is almost certain to come down points difference, with their two rivals meeting in Paris, but Jones has been forced into widespread changes given the seven-month gap between matches after the coronavirus pandemic.
The side shows seven personnel changes to the one that defeated Wales 33-30 in March, with Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, Ford, Joe Marler, Courtney Lawes and Mark Wilson all ruled out with injury, while George Kruis is preparing to move to Japan after leaving Saracens.
It means that fit-again Henry Slade returns to the starting XV in the unfamiliar role of inside centre, with Jonathan Joseph outside him in the absence of Tuilagi.
Jonny May and Anthony Watson continue on the wings, but with Daly ruled out with a knee injury George Furbank returns at full-back for the first time since the first two rounds of the championship in February.
Exeter’s Jonny Hill will make his England debut this weekend
A fit-again Mako Vunipola returns at loosehead prop with Maro Itoje joined by Exeter Chiefs’ uncapped lock Jonny Hill in the second row, and with Billy Vunipola fit to start after recovering from the broken arm that ruled him out of the rest of the Six Nations earlier this year, Jones reverts to his favoured back-row unit that impressed at the Rugby World Cup with Tom Curry restored to flanker alongside Sam Underhill.
Uncapped duo Ollie Lawrence and Ollie Thorley provide cover for the backs among the replacements, along with scrum-half Dan Robson, where they are joined by props Ellis Genge and Will Stuart, hooker Tom Dunn, lock Charlie Ewels and back row Ben Earl.