NIK SIMON: It’s a family affair as Ben Youngs bows out a hero and as England’s most capped international player, having been one of the greatest servants to wear the shirt
- Ben Youngs will retire from international rugby after England’s win vs Argentina
- The scrum half is England’s most capped player with 127 appearances
- His family, including his brother Tom, have travelled to France for the match
- Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results
The Eurostar from London to Paris on Friday morning was full of the Youngs clan. Parents, siblings, nieces, nephews. They all made their way over from Norfolk, revelling in stories of yesteryear before Ben Youngs ran out for the last of his 127 England appearances. A record haul.
Before taking his seat in the Stade de France, big brother Tom, who sang the anthem beside him in 2012, reminisced about the first time he fell victim to his sidestep on the family farm.
‘We used to have some old rugby posts made out of irrigation pipes on the farm,’ said Tom, who played alongside the scrum-half for club and country.
‘He stepped me and scored seven or eight tries until I told him he wasn’t allowed to step any more, so I could smash him! Running around, having fun. Ben was far more talented than I ever was. A natural talent.
‘To be over here now with our family, it’s really special to be able to watch his last moment in an England shirt.’
Ben Youngs will retire from international rugby after England’s win over Argentina
The scrum half is England’s most capped player with 127 appearances
His family, including his brother Tom (left), travelled to France for the match
During the anthems, Youngs squeezed in between Ellis Genge and George Ford. Genge pulled him in tight, cherishing the moment.
Ford offered a small gesture by removing his tracksuit top from his shoulders, acknowledging their remarkable journey that began together as teenagers at Leicester.
Early on, there was a flash of that sidestep that he mastered down in the farmyard.
With his first touch in the 22, he shifted his weight to the right and darted to the left, leaving Argentina full back Juan Cruz Mallia in his shadow.
But in his latter years, Youngs has been more about the kicking game. He has adapted his game and moved with the times.
He survived coaching culls — Martin Johnson, Stuart Lancaster, Eddie Jones — and tapered his natural instincts to suit the demands of the modern, structured game. Frustratingly, at times.
‘Watching him in a white shirt over the years, I tip my hat to him for his due diligence and his hunger to always get better,’ added Tom. ‘To always be part of an England squad for 12 or so years is unbelievable.
‘It shows the quality player he is but also the person he is. I’m just immensely proud, to be honest.’
Drawing on all of his experience, Youngs pointed Marcus Smith around the backfield as the fly-half settled into his new role in the No 15 jersey. Youngs had some stodgy play around the ruck, not his finest night in the shirt, and each error felt like a vindication of his decision to call it a day.
In a bronze medal match, it all felt inconsequential. Youngs has nothing left to prove.
There are younger, snappier No 9s in the field now. Jack van Poortvliet, Will Porter, Raffi Quirke and Alex Mitchell are all ready to take over. Sitting in the stands, his family watched with pride as he bowed out on the biggest stage. His career brought moments of comfort to the family at times when they were suffering from bereavements, including the loss of Tom’s wife, Tiff.
‘His 127 caps come from the way my mum and dad brought him up,’ said Tom.
England head coach Steve Borthwick and Youngs celebrate after the match
Youngs shakes hands with Danny Care as he leaves the field in his final England appearance
‘We can all get lost in the fairy tale. The fairy tale can blow up in your own eyes but the family kept him going along the way.
‘You’ve got to fit into squads. You can’t be a bad human being or you soon get found out… 127 caps speaks for itself. To be selected by however many coaches he’s had shows that he brings something very special to the party.’
He bowed out in the 51st minute, when he was replaced by Danny Care.
They have shared the dancefloor together since 2010 and shared a warm embrace on the pitch. Every player on the side-line stood in applause, recognising a player who has been one the greatest ever servants to wear the shirt.
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