Untested Youngs could join brother on England's tour


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The Independent Online

Leicester's rookie hooker Tom Youngs could make his England debut before starting an Aviva Premiership match for his club after being pencilled in for the summer tour of South Africa.

England are seriously considering the 25-year-old brother of Tigers and England scrum-half Ben for the three-Test tour despite the fact that none of his 28 appearances include a Premiership start at hooker, although he has made 13 appearances off the bench.

The England coaches have been keeping a close eye on Youngs, the Tigers' third-choice hooker behind George Chuter and Rob Hawkins, and have been so impressed with his play and attitude that they do not consider him a gamble for a tour which also includes two midweek games.

If Youngs gets the nod it will signal a remarkable rise to the top for a player who was converted from a crash-ball centre by South Africa's new head coach Heyneke Meyer during his brief stint in charge of Leicester in 2008-09.

He spent two years learning his new trade at Nottingham in the Championship and, after missing three months of this season due to a back operation, he now has the chance to press his claims as Leicester bid for an eighth successive Premiership final because Hawkins is out with a broken elbow.

Richard Cockerill, Leicester's director of rugby and a former England hooker, thinks Youngs, who he compares to the Leicester enforcer Julian White in terms of his physical approach, is an international in the making and would be a good choice for the tour which starts with the first Test on 9 June.

But he warned that his line-out throwing was still a work in progress and that England must take that into account before deciding whether to pick him in the 40-man squad. "Whether he is quite ready to perform at that level I'm not sure," Cockerill said. "He has still got a bit to work on from a line-out point of view, but that is getting better all the time.

"But if the opportunity came, it would be a fantastic experience for him.

"I don't mind him going away with England at any level, as long as you know what you want from him and you don't go, 'Well his throwing is not quite up there yet,' and you write him off. When I pick him I know what I'm going to get and what I'm not going to get."

Asked if he would pick Youngs if he was England coach, Cockerill said: "It depends on what options they have. Dylan Hartley won't have played much, Lee Mears has injury issues and so do [Wasps'] Rob Webber and [Harlequins'] Chris Brooker. Tom may come into the top two or three hookers simply because of circumstances, which may give him an opportunity to prove himself.

"He may go and be a revelation, but there are still parts of his game, from a set-piece point of view, that he has not experienced yet. But that only comes with time.

"Physically, mentally, no problem. He is very committed physically, very tough. He makes every tackle and will carry the ball as hard as he can. Physically, he is in the Julian White mould in that he never backs away from confrontation, he enjoys that part of it. He is a good bloke.

"At the moment, he is a very good Premiership player. If he improves the technical bits, mainly his throwing, by 20 per cent, he is as good as anybody in England. He certainly could play for England, but he still has got to do that, and that's the key."

Only one player has played for England having made fewer starts for Leicester than Youngs' nine, full-back Harold Day (6) in 1920. And the only other Leicester brothers to play for England are the Underwoods, Rory and Tony.

Youngs, who at 5ft 9in and 16 stone and a veritable pocket battleship, insists he has not thought about South Africa. "I have only just got back from injury and I'm just concentrating on Leicester and the semi-finals and, hopefully a final," he said.

"Obviously it would be awesome to go, it's what you try and build yourself towards, but I don't know whether that's on the radar or not."