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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform