James Lawton: England's Gareth Edwards? Youngs can aim that high

The scrum-half has a maverick streak, a creative impulse born of nerve and imagination which last autumn achieved a stunning breakthrough against Australia

Benjamin Ryder Youngs is not a trifling name but then nor are the possibilities for its 21-year-old owner. Astonishingly, in that he is making his first start in Six Nations rugby tonight against Wales, England's scrum-half is charged not only with making a strikingly decisive impression but maybe even setting the tournament's agenda.

It is a tribute to something which might be described as instant gravitas, a potential to stride quickly beyond the line that separates the merely good players from the potentially great.

Youngs may be in no more than the foothills of such ambition but there is no question he has created an extraordinary degree of expectation.

Indeed, in Cardiff it will not be too fanciful to believe that we may just be appraising the best thing to happen to the English game since Jonny Wilkinson first announced he had the weight of dedication and obsessive competitiveness to make himself one of the world's most significant players.

In a certain way, of course; in a marvellously consistent but ultimately predictable fashion that was anchored by his metronome kicking and his willingness to step in the way of anything less formidable than an inflamed rhino.

Wilkinson had a ton of desire, courage and technique, but there is at least the possibility that Youngs may well prove to have something of even greater value. He could have the capacity not just to win games with his strength and his aggressive approach but also shape them with his wit.

Youngs is different, certainly, from the quintessentially English rugby man Wilko. Though he looks what he undoubtedly is, a sturdy young athlete of impeccable bloodline, with a father who played for Leicester and England and a brother good enough to earn a living at hooker, there is something more, something that is not so frequently identified in men wearing the red rose on a white shirt, especially not by the French and still less the Welsh.

Youngs has a maverick streak, a creative impulse born of nerve and imagination which last autumn achieved an early, stunning breakthrough when he did something a young Gareth Edwards would have proudly claimed for both its vision and its execution. He gathered the ball in the shadow of his own posts, slipped a tackle and set up the try that broke Australia's belief that they could inflict their own superb running game.

Youngs was playing his fifth international and in that moment he gave himself a challenge which will face one of its most vigorous early examinations at the Millennium Stadium.

The bookmakers have England as narrow Six Nations favourites at 15-8, with France 2-1 and Ireland 3-1. Wales, who were threatening to light up the rugby skies again not so long ago, have much to prove tonight. They have to say that their renaissance was not a still-born victim of galloping hubris and for Mike Phillips, a show-stopping scrum-half on the best of his days, there is the most crucial chore of subduing Youngs.

If Australia, a critically misfiring Australia we have to say, had been able to contain him that day at Twickenhan they would surely have splintered England manager Martin Johnson's hopes for more than mere competitive respectability.

Youngs ran and passed beyond the boundaries of what we had come to hope from the best of English rugby performance. He explored every point of Australian weakness. It means Wales must pay him the closest attention tonight – soon enough it may also be true of all of rugby.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there