Youngs vows not to gloat if he wins battle of the No 9s
Phillips duel awaits England scrum-half on his first Six Nations start
If, for some strange reason, Ben Youngs failed to hear the words of his director of rugby after Leicester's hard-won Heineken Cup victory in the Scarlet corner of Wales last month – "If you do that before the referee awards the try," said Richard Cockerill, referring to the scrum-half's football-style shushing of the home crowd, "you run the risk of looking a prat" – there was no escaping the message.
"I was told off by my mum," Youngs admits. "She told me I should never do it again."
Mrs Youngs may or may not be more formidable than Cockerill, but we can safely assume that the lesson has been learned one way or another.
"It was one of those heat-of-the-moment things," the 21-year-old half-back from Norfolk continues. "The same goes for the arm-waving at the tackle area or the odd appeal to the referee. There's nothing cynical about it and I don't think we're going down the football road. I certainly can't see myself running 50 yards to tell the ref he's got it wrong. But things are pretty intense out there on the field and you can't help being animated when you become aware of certain goings-on."
Which leads neatly to the subject of what might go on between Youngs and his Welsh opponent, the reigning Lions No 9 Mike Phillips, when England visit Cardiff for the launch of the Six Nations on Friday night. Phillips is not renowned as the most self-effacing scrum-half in the sport – asked recently if he considered himself the world's best, he ummed and aahed before falling back on the old Brian Clough line about being "in the top one" – but few doubt his ability, even if his performance levels have been heading in a southerly direction of late. If the Lions were playing a Test tomorrow, both men would have a claim on the shirt.
Youngs recognises this upcoming contest for what it is – a full-on scrap with the player most likely to be standing in his way when the Lions tour Australia in 2013 – and acknowledges the scale of the challenge.
"Phillips is a big guy," he says. "It doesn't change much in some respects: scrum-halves don't go against scrum-halves that often in open field. But there's bound to be some banter around the set-pieces and he'll probably try to push me about a bit. The important thing is not to do anything silly that might jeopardise the team. There's nothing wrong with a bit of niggle now and again, but you can't allow yourself to be wound up by these things and start giving away points."
It is a sign of Youngs' contribution to the recent upturn in Red Rose fortunes – highlighted by, if not restricted to, his brilliant solo try against the Wallabies in Sydney last June, and his launching of the attack that resulted in Chris Ashton's celebrated score against the same opposition at Twickenham in November – that he should look for all the world like a seasoned Six Nations campaigner.
In fact, this will be his first championship start. Like several others likely to be named in the run-on team today, he has no experience of the highly belligerent atmosphere generated in the Welsh capital every time the English come to town.
"We are fully aware that it will be hostile – why would we expect anything less?" he says. "I've been involved in some difficult away trips at club level. I've been to Perpignan in the Heineken Cup: the place is a bearpit, the rugby is very intense. It's pretty interesting down in Toulouse, too, especially when the supporters get the flares going. But this will be special, I'm sure. The Millennium Stadium is a wonderful venue. So many great rugby events have taken place on that patch of ground."
Friday night's game may turn out to be less than great – the fixture is so wrapped up in its own nervous energy, it will be a minor miracle if anyone actually manages to catch the ball – but Youngs has it in him to do something very, very good. A potential matchwinner? Let's put it this way: there are three or four on either side, and the Leicester scrum-half is definitely among them.
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