I don’t really like watching sport in a pub. Not the big games, the ones I really care about. There’s too much noise, and distractions, and opinions, and you have to make conversation, and can never hear the commentators or the crowd.
Instead, I prefer watching at home with my parents, my brother (and occasionally) sister. There’s an uncodified set of rules and understanding that have been established over the long, arduous years of being both fans of sport and English. It’s all about sitting in the right place and not moving at the wrong time, and whatever you do, not even mentioning the notion of winning until at least five minutes after the final whistle.
I was home for the weekend so was watching England versus New Zealand sat on my sofa with my parents. When there was talk it was not to anyone in particular: more to the room, or ourselves. But as Ben Youngs went over in the 46th minute for his soon to be disallowed try, after the celebrations but before the TMO’s overruling, my Dad turned to me and said, “There you go, Will. There’s your angle. He’s been class today.”
Because, despite the disallowed try, Youngs was class.
In possession he marshalled the game to perfection. England came-out playing fast, aggressive rugby and Youngs facilitated this, timing his arrival at the break down to zip the ball off the back of the ruck to George Ford, Owen Farrell or – unexpectedly – Kyle Sinckler.
Out of possession he was equally savvy. Just before his disallowed try it was Youngs who recovered fastest to the New Zealand interception and stole the ball back off Sevu Reece before pinning the All Blacks back with a grubber.
In an England team where there is so much talk about the quality of the back-row or how to best utilise the players outside of him, Youngs is often overlooked and occasionally criticised. But he has been one of England’s most consistent players – both in performance and selection – since making his debut in 2010.
His 94 appearances have come whilst scrum-halves round him like Connor Murray and Aaron Smith have soaked up the praise, and then all of a sudden he’s England’s joint third most capped player in history. It’s somewhat farcical that Youngs, a player who has been so good and so consistent for so long, has only received two Lions caps.
Ben Youngs is just who you want for a big situation. His head stays cool when those around him are losing theirs. He kicks well, rarely makes mistakes and regularly scores tries and yet one still has to avoid the temptation to label him a ‘no frills player’.
At half time, while the All Blacks jogged off to the dressing room, the England players stayed on the pitch for a huddle and pep talk. It was Farrell that would have called them in, but Youngs who was doing all the talking. His leadership off the pitch seems equally important as his skill on it.
England were phenomenal, and whilst Itoje et al. will receive the praise, Youngs’ quiet competence should not go unnoticed.
At 11.03, a safe five minutes after the final whistle, my Dad messaged the family group chat. “Amazing game. The only reason NZ scored a try was cos Mum made the basic error of leaving the room.”
For England’s sake, let’s hope she stays put next week.
Written by Will Sewell.