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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence