Tom Youngs: Farmer's boy more than ready to plough a new furrow

Ex-centre says he is comfortable to face Fiji at Twickenham in his new position as hooker

The career switch from centre to hooker is an unusual one, bordering on the unique – the union equivalent of Usain Bolt moving up to the marathon, or Rod Stewart singing Parsifal at Covent Garden. When Tom Youngs wins his first cap for England against the touring Fijians in front of 80,000 Twickenhamites tomorrow, he will turn rugby orthodoxy on its head. Even now, he has made only nine full front-row appearances for Leicester, the club who talked him into this madness.

"I don't know what I've done or how I've gone about it," the 25-year-old debutant said cheerfully after Stuart Lancaster, the red-rose head coach, had confirmed him in the starting line-up. "I remember playing my first full 80 minutes at hooker, for Nottingham against Leicester in a pre-season game, and my dad phoning me afterwards to ask where I was. I said: 'I'm sitting on a wall outside the clubhouse and I can't move.' The Leicester front row that day was Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter and Martin Castrogiovanni, all of them internationals. I was on painkillers for a week."

Youngs has broken the mould in all sorts of ways, including family-wise: his father Nick played scrum-half for England in the 1980s; his brother Ben does likewise now and will be on the bench tomorrow. But even though he first broke into the Leicester side as a midfielder of the no-nonsense, route-one variety, the idea that he might one day materialise at the sharp end was always there in the background.

"Peter Winterbottom [a marvellous open-side flanker for both England and the Lions] is a close family friend and I remember him telling me I should play hooker," Youngs said. "I was probably 15 or 16 at the time. I think my dad mentioned it as well. It made sense.

"I was a hard-running centre who enjoyed tackling and knew how to pick a decent line, but I couldn't kick for toffee. If I'm honest, I didn't have the core skills to really make the grade in midfield. I'm glad I made the switch, although I wouldn't say it's been easy."

It was the South African strategist Heyneke Meyer who crystallised things during a brief tenure as Leicester's head coach. "Heyneke told me I should seriously consider making the move," Youngs recalled, "so I spoke to my dad about it and he said: 'It's your career, your life. Go ahead and do it if you want to give it a shot.'

"I went to Nottingham on a dual registration with Leicester and started learning the trade. It was a matter of setting small targets and taking small steps. I had my head shoved up my arse on more than one occasion, but I was always able to go back to Leicester and talk things through with the top players there. I couldn't have wished for a better way of doing it."

Far from the tallest of England hookers – by comparison with his World Cup-winning predecessor Steve Thompson, he is virtually a midget at 5ft 9in – there is power to spare in the squat, compact Youngs frame. Built along the lines of the Bath forward Lee Mears, another recent claimant to the No 2 shirt who was good enough to start a Lions Test against the Springboks in 2009, he generates significant levels of "oomph" at close quarters. The fact that he comes from a farming background is also relevant. Whatever physical power his rivals might acquire in the gym, it pales into insignificance when set against the natural strength developed by those who get their hands dirty working on the land.

No one in the England camp believes for a second that the newcomer is the "finished article", to use the modern jargon, and those who have watched him struggle to find his line-out jumpers in recent Premiership and Heineken Cup matches would wholeheartedly agree. But Youngs is entirely unfazed by his trials and tribulations in this rather important department.

"There were one or two difficult moments in the game against Gloucester at Kingsholm just recently, but I think I learnt my lesson and learnt it quickly," he argued. "Certainly, things went better for me after half-time. Also, my percentages suggest I'm not too far off – not that I'm a great one for looking at percentages. And then there's the point that all hookers like to make: that if a line-out goes wrong, it's not necessarily down to the thrower."

Happily for Joe Marler and Dan Cole, the two men who will spend tomorrow afternoon in immediate earshot, Youngs is not the most vocal of hookers: more of a Graham Dawe than a Brian Moore or a Mark Regan. "The modern game is too fast-flowing for long conversation," he explained. There speaks the son of a farmer: a strong, silent type with the emphasis on the first of those virtues.

Family affairs: Other England connections

Delon and Steffon Armitage

The last siblings to feature together in an England Test, back in February 2009. The partnership was short-lived as both fell out of favour due to injury or form. They both now play in France.

Rory and Tony Underwood

The pair became the first brothers to feature in over 60 years when they helped Jack Rowell's team to the 1995 Grand Slam. The duo enjoyed great success together on the wings.

Will and Dick Greenwood

Centre Will featured for England for eight years, including helping the country win the 2003 World Cup. His father, Dick, a flanker, won just five caps in the 1960s but also later coached the side.

Harold and Arthur Wheatley

Played together for England in the late 1930s.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game